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Saturn’s gravitational field induced by its equatorially antisymmetric zonal winds

Dali Kong, Keke Zhang, Gerald Schubert, John D. Anderson


Abstract The cloud-level zonal winds of Saturn are marked by a substantial equatorially antisymmetric component with a speed of about 50 m s−1 which, if they are sufficiently deep, can produce measurable odd zonal gravitational coefficients ∆J2k+1 , k = 1, 2, 3, 4. This study, based on solutions of the thermal-gravitational wind equation, provides a theoretical basis for interpreting the odd gravitational coefficients of Saturn in terms of its equatorially antisymmetric zonal flow. We adopt a Saturnian model comprising an ice-rock core, a metallic dynamo region and an outer molecular envelope. We use an equatorially antisymmetric zonal flow that is parameterized, confined in the molecular envelope and satisfies the solvability condition required for the thermal-gravitational wind equation. The structure and amplitude of the zonal flow at the cloud level are chosen to be consistent with observations of Saturn. We calculate the odd zonal gravitational coefficients ∆J2k+1 , k = 1, 2, 3, 4 by regarding the depth of the equatorially antisymmetric winds as a parameter. It is found that ∆J3 is −4.197 × 10−8 if the zonal winds extend about 13 000 km downward from the cloud tops while it is −0.765 × 10−8 if the depth is about 4000 km. The depth/profile of the equatorially antisymmetric zonal winds can eventually be estimated when the high-precision measurements of the Cassini Grand Finale become available.


Keywords gravitation — planets and satellites: individual (Saturn) — planets and satellites: interiors

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