Friday, January 04, 2008

Saturn Hot Spots

Full size mockup of Cassini spacecraft, with the Huygens probe attached.

Way back at the 2005 AGU meeting, we had data from Subaru that Saturn's South Pole is a "hot spot" with the warmest temperatures of the surface. Astronomers have long known that Saturn is a warm body, giving off 2.8 times as much heat as it receives from the Sun. Someone then speculated that Saturn's bulk hides the twin jets of an internal Black Hole. At the time, people thought the South Pole was warm because it is closer to the Sun. If that were true, then Saturn's equator would be the warmest region of all.

The January 4 issue of the journal Science reports that the North Pole, which doesn't face the Sun, is "hot" too. So much for being closer to the Sun! Something else inside Saturn is warming both poles. This ought to be considered good evidence for a Black Hole. Saturn's magnetic poles, which mark the singularity's spin axis, are nearly in line with the geographic poles. The Black Hole's jets, following magnetic field lines, travel outward toward the geographic poles.

The Northern jet is composed of electrons which spiral tightly around the field lines. The Southern jet is made of heavier ions, which travel around to the North and follow field lines back in. Earth's Van Allen belts work the same way, with concentric lanes of positive and negative particles travelling in opposite directions. At Saturn's North Pole, the incoming ion stream crowds in on the outgoing electrons. As nature shows us with the honeycomb, the best way to pack things together is in hexagons.

Paradoxically, could Earth's South Pole also be hot? A scientist's adventures in the southern hemisphere say very likely yes! Far from being solid ice, the Antarctic contains subsurface lakes like Vostok. The lakes are considered potential homes of life. To keep these lakes liquid, Earth's Antarctic ice sheet must contain sources of volcanic heat. The heat of Earth's volcanoes may also originate in a Black Hole.

The Universe contains wonders even beneath our feet. We know less about Earth's interior than we do about outer Space. At least telescopes can see into Space. Earth's mysterious interior could hold many surprises, even a Black Hole.

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Blogger Kea said...

FANTASTIC! Is that a new hexagon photo?

9:55 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Not quite, it dates from earlier in 007. Discovery that the North Pole is "hot" was just announced. You put a nice hexagon picture on your blog too.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it relevant that the magnetic field of Saturn is (as are the fields of Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune)
of opposite orientation (with respect to the plane of planetary orbits around the Sun) to that of Earth ?

Tony Smith

6:01 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

For Tony: Geology shows that Earth's magnetic field has wandered and flippedfrom time to time, which may be due to the Black Hole's spin axis wandering.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

I'm confused, by this (and apologize for being new to the discussion). It's not clear to me why a rotating black hole should have it's spin aligned with Saturn at all (unless they were formed together - is that the conjecture?). And as you say, the Earth's mag. field has wandered and flipped. Would we expect a preponderance of polar-aligned mag. field (Jupiter, too) or a tendency towards polar-alignment over time from this mechanism?
I plead ignorance (but I'm fascinated!)

7:31 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Welcome to the discussion, Joe. Most planet's magnetic fields, and therefore their central Black Holes are not aligned with the spin axis. Saturn is unusual in that its geographic and magnetic poles are nearly coincident. That may be temporary, if Saturn's pole has wandered too.

7:23 PM  

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