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Giant planets are large planets, typically 10 or more times the mass of Earth, made predominantly of liquid or gas, notably hydrogen and helium. There are four giants in the solar system: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
The authors discover that Jupiter's southern X-ray aurora is concentrated into a hot spot (until now only the north pole was known to have one), which behaves completely differently in brightness and timing pulsation from its northern counterpart.
The 2010–2011 storm that appeared at Saturn’s northern mid-latitudes significantly altered the wind structure and atmospheric temperature even far away from the storm, by disrupting the quasi-periodic atmospheric oscillations at the equator for more than 3 years.
Diamonds precipitate from methane under the intense pressures of the atmospheres of Neptune and Uranus. Here, a laser shock experiment on a hydrocarbon sample shows that diamonds may require ten times as much pressure to precipitate as was previously thought.
The Jovian atmosphere is highly turbulent due to processes happening on a wide range of length scales. Cassini spacecraft data now suggest the presence of kinetic energy cascades over different length scales — a likely origin of Jupiter’s turbulence.
Observations of the gas-giant exoplanet WASP-121b reveal near-infrared emission lines of water, suggesting that the planet has a stratosphere—a layer in the upper atmosphere where temperature increases with altitude.
The tropical stratospheric temperature and wind field of several planets oscillate quasi-periodically. Recent Cassini observations show that Saturn’s oscillations were disturbed for more than three years by the year-long giant storm that appeared in 2010.
The NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini–Huygens mission ends in a ‘Grand Finale’ this month, after 13 years in orbit around Saturn. The ESA and NASA JPL project scientists Nicolas Altobelli, Linda J. Spilker and Scott G. Edgington give an overview of the last moments of Cassini’s operational lifetime.
Cassini has been a pinnacle of our quest for the understanding of the space around us. Its end symbolically marks the beginning of a period of relative dearth for Solar System exploration, but planetary science won’t stop thriving.