Saturn circles the sun on a 27 degree tilt that experts now believe could be caused its moons and especially Titan, the planet’s largest moon.
Previous work found Saturn’s natural satellites are moving away faster than previously believed and by adding this increased migration rate to new calculations, researchers determined this is causing the planet to tilt more and more – and will double in a few billion years.
The team also found that the decisive event that tilted the ringed gas giant occurred relatively recently.
Calculations show that just about one billion years ago, the moon’s triggered a resonance phenomenon that sent Saturn’s axis interacting with the path of Neptune and gradually tilted until it reached the inclination observed today.
Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and the second largest in the Solar System.
It is known for its dazzling system of rings, but is typically shown on a tilt that has sparked the curiosity of many scientists.
Saturn’s tilt is just slightly larger than that of Mars, but it cases strong seasonal variations on the ringed planet- each lasts for more than seven years.
Now, two scientists from CNRS and Sorbonne University working at the Institute of Celestial Mechanics and Ephemeris Calculation have just shown that the influence of Saturn’s satellites can explain the tilt of the rotation axis of the gas giant.
The team pulled data from previous work published in June 2020 that found Saturn’s moons are migrating faster from Saturn than previously predicted.
However, this report determined the Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is moving 100 times faster and is believed to have formed much closer 4.5 billion years ago.
And as Titan moves, it is pulling Saturn more and more on a tilt.
The latest study led researchers to find the latest event that titled Saturn.
Scientists previously speculated it occurred over four billion years ago, due to a change in Neptune’s orbit and since then, Saturn’s axis was thought to hav been stable.
‘In fact, Saturn’s axis is still tilting, and what we see today is merely a transitional stage in this shift,’ researchers shard in a statement.
‘Over the next few billion years, the inclination of Saturn’s axis could more than double.’
The research team had already reached similar conclusions about the planet Jupiter, which is expected to undergo comparable tilting due to the migration of its four main moons and to resonance with the orbit of Uranus: over the next five billion years, the inclination of Jupiter’s axis could increase from 3° to more than 30°.