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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
This is an infrared image of Jupiter showing regions which are hot.
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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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An Overview of Motions in Saturn's Atmosphere

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Saturn's Belts and Zones

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA