Two scientists from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Sorbonne University have found that the influence of Saturn’s moons can explain the tilt of the gas giant’s axis of rotation. Their work, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, also predicts that the tilt will increase over the next several billion years.
In a new study, scientists have suggested that Saturn’s tilt may be caused by its moons. The work of scientists from CNRS, the Sorbonne University and the University of Pisa showed that the current tilt of Saturn’s axis of rotation is caused by the migration of satellites, especially the largest of them – Titan.
Recent observations have shown that Titan and other moons are gradually moving away from Saturn and are doing so much faster than astronomers assumed. By incorporating this increased migration rate into their calculations, the researchers concluded that this process affects the tilt of Saturn’s rotational axis. As its satellites recede further and further, the planet tilts more and more.
It is believed that the decisive event that tilted Saturn happened relatively recently. For more than three billion years after its formation, Saturn’s axis of rotation remained only slightly tilted. Around a billion years ago, the gradual movement of its satellites caused a resonant phenomenon that continues today. Saturn’s axis interacted with the trajectory of the planet Neptune and gradually tilted until it reached the 27°tilt seen today.