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This is an infrared image of Jupiter showing regions which are hot.
Click on image for full size
NASA

The Source of Heat from Within Saturn

Frequently in astromony, the luminosity of a star is calculated. The luminosity indicates the energy, and the temperature of the star.

When the luminosity of the outer planets was calculated, that of Jupiter and Saturn was very high, indicating that these planets are giving off a lot of energy, more energy in fact than they are receiving from the sun.

There are several ways in which astronomical objects produce energy from inside. The first is thermonuclear fusion. This method of energy production is reserved for stars. Another method is by way of radioactive material within the ground. This method is at work in most terrestrial bodies.

For the giant planets the method which seems to be at work is the mere fact that energy is given off from when a planetary body is in the process of shrinking together, or collapsing on itself.

The fact that Saturn is still collapsing together indicates that the process of planet formation is still going on. This process is providing the heat from within which causes the unusual motions in the atmosphere.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF