On November 27th, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft photographed a giant storm cell at the north pole of this majestic planet, from 361,000 kilometers away. Cassini used infrared imaging to look through the first layer of clouds to the complicated and massively superb storm that lay just underneath. When this storm was first seen, it was during Saturn’s 15-year winter, and the north pole was in darkness. Scientists notices a hexagonal shape but it was too dark to peer into the eye of the storm and see for sure what it is.
As spring started to creep in in 2009, scientists have been getting many spectacular image of this ringed planet, and this is one of them. The eye of this “hurricane” is exactly at the center of the hexagonal shape which scientists spotted years ago. The hexagonal shape was over 15,000 miles across, while the recent hurricane Sandy was a mere 1,000 miles across, just to give you an idea of scale.
Astronomers think that these storms form the same way on Saturn as they do on Jupiter, by warmer, moist air rising through colder layers of air, making a cyclonic motion of the air. The sheer magnitude of these storms, though, puts any storm on our Earth to shame.
This is not the first time such a storm had been spotted on Jupiter, however. In 2006, the Cassini photographed a storm 2/3 as wide as the entire Earth. That particular storm was the first time ever that astronomers observed eye-wall clouds other than on Earth. Eye-wall clouds are a typical feature of hurricanes in which a bank of clouds towers above a central point.
Scientists are unsure about whether these storms on Saturn are permanent or com and go with the seasons, so hopefully we’ll find that out soon.
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