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Saturn
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Mood! Scientists reveal Saturn has a ‘fuzzy’, jiggly core

Planets! They're just like us!

Exciting news for Capricorns everywhere – your sign may be getting a long-awaited rebrand thanks to its ruling planet, Saturn. After years of thinking it has an icy solid rock core, scientists have discovered that Saturn is actually ‘fuzzy’ and ‘jiggly’ on the inside. We suggest you take that as a compliment, we guess.

According to a new study in the journal Nature Astronomy, the planet’s heart is actually “a diffuse soup of ice, rock, and metallic fluids”, which is otherwise referred to as a “fuzzy” core. The study used data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which orbited Saturn’s 36,184 mile (58,232 km) radius for 13 years, before it disintegrated in the planet’s atmosphere in 2017. 

“The fuzzy cores are like a sludge,” said Christopher R. Mankovich, one of the lead authors of the study in a statement to the California Institute of Technology. “The hydrogen and helium gas in the planet gradually mix with more and more ice and rock as you move toward the planet’s center. It's a bit like parts of Earth’s oceans where the saltiness increases as you get to deeper and deeper levels, creating a stable configuration.”

The study also verifies previous scientific research that – similarly to how earthquakes from tectonic plates cause tremors across our planet – jiggly oscillations in Saturn’s core cause the gas giant to wobble around. These movements can even reach the planet’s rings, which are 175,000 miles (282,000 kilometers) away from the planet, causing slight ripples.

“Saturn is always quaking, but it's subtle,” explained Mankovich. “The planet’s surface moves about a meter every one to two hours like a slowly rippling lake. Like a seismograph, the rings pick up the gravity disturbances, and the ring particles start to wiggle around.”

From that, the research indicates that while the planet’s interior is “sloshing” as a whole, it is also formed by stable layers – suggesting that when Saturn was formed, its heavier materials sank towards the inside.

Jim Fuller, the study’s second author, stated: “In order for the planet’s gravitational field to be oscillating with these particular frequencies, the interior must be stable, and that’s only possible if the fraction of ice and rock gradually increases as you go in toward the planet’s center.”

Additionally, the findings reported that Saturn’s core is 55 times larger than the entirety of Earth – with 17 of the Earth-masses made of ice and rock and the remaining 38 of helium and hydrogen gasses. Otherwise, the planet’s rings contain ice and rock particles which can be as big as mountains. 

See NASA’s ‘goodbye’ to Saturn’s Cassini spacecraft below.