Astronomical School’s Report, 2015, Volume 11, Issue 1, Pages 15–23
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UDC 523.4

Seasons on Saturn. II. Influence of solar activity on variation of methane absorption

Vidmachenko A.P.

Main Astronomical Observatory NAS of Ukraine


Methane and ammonia in the atmosphere of Saturn are in the form of impurities at the level of less than tenths of a percentage. They take part in photochemical processes, the main products of which are hydrocarbons and ammonia NH3. Polyacetylenes absorb sunlight almost to 400 nm, and hydrocarbons <180 nm. Therefore, the solar activity cycle, the slope of the equator to the plane of the orbit, the orbital motion and the presence of the rings induce change in composition of the upper atmosphere. Radiation constants in the atmosphere depend on the physical and chemical conditions, decreasing from ~10 years at the visible clouds level, to months in tropopause, and days in stratosphere. The observed seasonal effects may be associated also with condensation and convection, and the dynamic time scale may be only tens of hours. The data analysis on the methane absorption distribution over the disk of Saturn for 1964–2012 showed a significant seasonal changes in the levels of visible clouds and above clouds haze. Changes of methane absorption along the meridian in the equinox 1966 and 1995, had the opposite course to the results in equinox 1980. But the expected differences in the change of methane absorption at the equinox 2009, similar to 1980, did not happen. Although all the physical and orbital characteristics of Saturn at equinoxes in these moments repeated, but the response to them were received various. A few years before the equinox in 1966, 1980 and 1995, the number of R, characterizing solar activity, varied from 40 to 180. Before equinox 2009 the Sun has minimal activity and the R value was practically zero. According to observations at the time of equinox 2009, convection in the Saturn's atmosphere stayed at a minimal level. After exiting of rings shadows in winter northern hemisphere deep cloud layer was “frozen” at the same low level at absence of active processes on the Sun. This allowed easily to register a thick layer of methane and ammonia gas. So how such haze has a photochemical nature, it can be assumed that due to minimum of solar activity, in the Saturn's atmosphere was not enough energy for formation of photochemical aerosol layer. Because of such a set of physical and chemical conditions in Saturn's atmosphere, and low-activity in winter hemisphere, the methane absorption remained almost unchanged and equal to the absorption in the former summer hemisphere with maximum irradiated sunlight.

Keywords: atmosphere; Saturn; methane absorption; seasonal variations; solar activity


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