Saturn's Probable Interior: An Exploration of Saturn's Potential Interior Density Structures

Naor Movshovitz, Jonathan J. Fortney, Chris Mankovich, Daniel Thorngren, Ravit Helled

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The gravity field of a giant planet is typically our best window into its interior structure and composition. Through comparison of a model planet's calculated gravitational potential with the observed potential, inferences can be made about interior quantities, including possible composition and the existence of a core. Necessarily, a host of assumptions go into such calculations, making every inference about a giant planet's structure strongly model dependent. In this work, we present a more general picture by setting Saturn's gravity field, as measured during the Cassini Grand Finale, as a likelihood function driving a Markov Chain Monte Carlo exploration of the possible interior density profiles. The result is a posterior distribution of the interior structure that is not tied to assumed composition, thermal state, or material equations of state. Constraints on interior structure derived in this Bayesian framework are necessarily less informative, but are also less biased and more general. These empirical and probabilistic constraints on the density structure are our main data product, which we archive for continued analysis. We find that the outer half of Saturn's radius is relatively well constrained, and we interpret our findings as suggesting a significant metal enrichment, in line with atmospheric abundances from remote sensing. As expected, the inner half of Saturn's radius is less well constrained by gravity, but we generally find solutions that include a significant density enhancement, which can be interpreted as a core, although this core is often lower in density and larger in radial extent than typically found by standard models. This is consistent with a dilute core and/or composition gradients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 10 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences1828315


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