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How Charged Water Particles Affect Saturn’s Atmosphere
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04/10/2013 11:23 PM
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A new study published in the journal Nature found that the “rain” of charged water particles in Saturn’s atmosphere influences the composition and temperature of the planet’s upper atmosphere and rings.
The study, led by the University of Leicester in England, reveals that there is a significant interaction between its atmosphere and ring system.
“The main effect of ring rain is that it acts to ‘quench’ the ionosphere of Saturn. In other words, this rain severely reduces the electron densities in regions in which it falls,” said James O’Donoghue, the paper’s lead author and a postgraduate researcher at Leicester.
He said the ring’s effect on electron densities is important because it explains why observations have shown those densities to be unusually low at certain latitudes on Saturn.
The researchers’ study helps scientists have a better understanding of the origin and evolution of Saturn’s ring system and the changes in the ringed planet’s atmosphere.
“It turns out that a major driver of Saturn’s ionospheric environment and climate across vast reaches of the planet are ring particles located some 36,000 miles [60,000 kilometers] overhead,” said Kevin Baines, a co-author on the paper, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “The ring particles affect both what species of particles are in this part of the atmosphere and where it is warm or cool.”
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