Space scientists have long been fascinated with Saturn’s age. They’ve tried to determine it over and over again in the past, with each experts adopting a different approach and causing an endless debate among members of the scientific community.
One baffling mystery in the particular is how the gas giant manages to stay so hot without an additional energy source, since planets typically cool off as they become older.
Thomas Mattsson, manager of the high-energy-density physics theory group over at Sandia National Laboratory, gave a statement saying that “Models that correctly predict Jupiter to be 4.5 billion years old find Saturn to be only 2.5 billion years old”.
But now an article posted earlier this week, on June 26, in the journal Science, says that the planet’s hydrogen molecules may have given away its secret age. Experiments conducted with the help of Sandia’s Z Machine could finally prove an old, untested theory from 80 years ago.
First put together by two (2) physicists – Eugene Wigner and Hillard Bell Huntington – in 1935, the proposed theory states that molecular hydrogen, which is usually an insulator, will begin to act like a metal if it’s squeezed by enough pressure. It will break and split into individual hydrogen atoms, all while setting free electrons that are capable of carrying a current.
Mike Desjarlais, one of the researchers from the Sandia National Laboratory, gave a statement infirming that this theory could explain Saturn’s temperature as helium rain is created when metallized hydrogen mixes with helium inside a dense liquid.
The mysterious energy source that the planet taps into to keep warmer than it should be its age may very well be helium rain, which can easily alter the planet’s evolution.
A team of researchers ran some test with the Sandia Z Machine. They magnetically compressed hydrogen while keeping it at a fairly low temperature, rather than by heating it up, and when the gas had gotten compressed enough that it was more than twelve (12) times its initial density, the researchers noticed that the hydrogen started being atomic, as opposed to molecular.
It’s a remarkable discovery that could make space scientists second guess everything they think they know about Saturn, especially the planet’s age.
One of the popular computerized models that already exists looks at a Jovian planet’s radiation and heat emission in order to determine its age. It says that as a planet gets older, it should also get colder. This model says Jupiter is 4.5 billion years old, while Saturn is only 2.5 billion years old.
The team from Sandia National Laboratory did admit that their results have to be introduced into astrophysical astrophysical models in order to find out just how much the transformation that hydrogen suffers affects the age gap between Sarurn and Jupiter.
But the working theory is that Saturn is also 4.5 billion years old, it only appears younger using the above mentioned model due to its helium rain.
Experts on the subject say that the finding is most likely to cause debate in the scientific community for years to come in order to reach a new consensus.
Image Source: machineslikeus.com