We finally know exactly how long a day lasts on Saturn

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Mar 31, 2015, 11:04 AM EDT (Updated)

Due to the fact that Saturn is mostly a big ol’ ball of gas on the surface, it's made it tough sledding for scientists to figure out the length of a day there. Until now.

Scientists at Tel Aviv University have determined a day on Saturn lasts 10 hours, 32 minutes and 44 seconds. That puts the planet’s rotation at less than half the length of a typical Earth day, so future astronauts will have some work to do to reboot their internal clocks. The findings were published in the journal Nature.

As Popular Science notes, the exact time has been hard to nail down, mostly due to the fact that scientists couldn’t use their usual methods to track it. Typically, a team would just focus in on a specific feature (rock, crater, formation, etc.) and track the position all the way around. For a planet that’s mostly shifting gas on the top (which obscures the surface), that gets a bit hard to do.

So how'd they do it? Team member Ravit Helled noted the findings were developed by tracking the axis of the magnetic field, so they worked around that data to eventually tighten up the model to land on the 10 hour, 32 minute number. Why’s it important? Because scientists need to know that time (exactly) to make more detailed projections about Saturn:

“The rotation period of a giant planet is a fundamental physical property, and its value affects many aspects of the physics of these planets, including their interior structure and atmospheric dynamics,” Helled said.

For the sake of comparison, previous estimates were off by several minutes. The Voyager 2 probe estimated 10 hours, 39 minutes and 22 seconds back in the early 1980s, and approximately 30 years later the Cassini spacecraft measured 10 hours, 47 minutes and 6 seconds. So, oddly enough, the oldest calculation was actually the most accurate (until now).

(Via Popular Science)