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We review our current understanding of the interior structure and thermal evolution of Saturn, with a focus on recent results in the Cassini era. There has been important progress in understanding physical inputs, including equations of state of planetary materials and their mixtures, physical parameters like the gravity field and rotation rate, and constraints on Saturnian free oscillations. At the same time, new methods of calculation, including work on the gravity field of rotating fluid bodies, and the role of interior composition gradients, should help to better constrain the state of Saturn’s interior, now and earlier in its history. However, a better appreciation of modeling uncertainties and degeneracies, along with a greater exploration of modeling phase space, still leave great uncertainties in our understanding of Saturn’s interior. Further analysis of Cassini data sets, as well as precise gravity field measurements from the Cassini Grand Finale orbits, will further revolutionize our understanding of Saturn’s interior over the next few years.
Clouds and hazes are important throughout our solar system and in the atmospheres of brown dwarfs and extrasolar giant planets. Among the brown dwarfs, clouds control the colors and spectra of the L-dwarfs; the disappearance of clouds helps herald the arrival of the T-dwarfs. The structure and composition of clouds will be among the first remote-sensing results from the direct detection of extrasolar giant planets.
In the “Weather on Other Worlds” Spitzer Exploration Science program, we surveyed 44 nearby L3–T8 dwarfs for spot-induced rotational variability. Among single L3–L9.5 dwarfs, we found that 80% are variable at >0.2% in the 3–5 μm wavelength range, while 36% of T0–T8 were variable at >0.4%. Taking into account viewing angle and sensitivity considerations, both of these findings are consistent with spots being present on ~100% of L3–T8 dwarfs. Intriguingly, we find a tentative association (92% confidence) between low surface gravity and high-amplitude variability among L3–L5.5 dwarfs. Although we can not confirm whether lower gravity is also correlated with a higher incidence of variables, the result is promising for the characterization of directly imaged young extrasolar planets through variability.
Here we examine the visible spectra of giant planets in anticipation of the science return of missions like the Terrestrial Planet Finder-Coronagraph and proposed Discovery class space coronagraph missions EPIC and ECLIPSE. Our understanding of extrasolar giant planets is already greatly improving because of our studies of old brown dwarfs (which have effective temperatures similar to young giant planets), transiting hot Jupiters, and the planet Jupiter itself. The first data collected on Jupiter-like extrasolar giant planets will likely consist of magnitudes in a few filters or very low resolution spectra. We investigate diagnostics for determining planetary effective temperature, atmospheric chemical abundances, cloud cover, and mass using such limited data. In general, giant planet science is improved significantly if missions in the visible domain extend to wavelengths as long as possible, within engineering constraints.
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