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Scientists Find that Saturn's Rotation Period Is a Puzzle
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Scientists Find that Saturn's Rotation Period Is a Puzzle
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Scientists Find that Saturn's Rotation Period Is a Puzzle

On approach to Saturn, data obtained by the Cassini spacecraft are already posing a puzzling question: How long is the day on Saturn?

Cassini took readings of the day-length indicator regarded as most reliable, the rhythm of natural radio signals from the planet. The results give 10 hours, 45 minutes, 45 seconds (plus or minus 36 seconds) as the length of time it takes Saturn to complete each rotation. Here's the puzzle: That is about 6 minutes, or one percent, longer than the radio rotational period measured by the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft, which flew by Saturn in 1980 and 1981.

Cassini scientists are not questioning Voyager's careful measurements. And they definitely do not think the whole planet of Saturn is actually rotating that much slower than it did two decades ago. Instead, they are looking for an explanation based on some variability in how the rotation deep inside Saturn drives the radio pulse.

The radio sounds of Saturn's rotation, which are also the first sounds from Saturn studied by Cassini, are like a heartbeat.

Credit: NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency

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Last Updated: 24 Jun 2010