April 29, 2013
Cassini Catches Great View Of Saturn Hurricane
[ Watch the Video: Mysterious Hurricane at Saturn´s North Pole ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineNASA's Cassini spacecraft has provided an incredible view of a monster storm on Saturn with clouds moving as fast as 300 miles per hour.
High-resolution pictures and video of the storm gives a unique perspective of a hurricane with an eye measuring about 1,250 miles, which is about 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. NASA said the hurricane is swirling inside a large, mysterious, six-sided weather pattern known as a hexagon.
"We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth," said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "But there it is at Saturn, on a much larger scale, and it is somehow getting by on the small amounts of water vapor in Saturn's hydrogen atmosphere."
Scientists plan to study the hurricane to gain a little more understanding about the storm systems here on Earth, which feed off warm ocean water. Although there is no body of water close to the Saturn storm, learning how the hurricane is able to feed off water vapor could tell scientists more about how terrestrial hurricanes are generated and sustained.
The wind in the eye of the Saturn hurricane blows more than four times faster than hurricane-force winds on Earth. The storm system is locked into Saturn's north pole, compared to hurricanes on Earth which tend to drift northward because of the forces acting on the storm system as the planet rotates.
"The polar hurricane has nowhere else to go, and that's likely why it's stuck at the pole," said Kunio Sayanagi, a Cassini imaging team associate at Hampton University in Hampton, Va.
NASA released a striking up-close image of the spinning vortex, showing a deep red in false color to highlight some of the features of this monster storm. The view was acquired about 261,000 miles from Saturn.
"Such a stunning and mesmerizing view of the hurricane-like storm at the north pole is only possible because Cassini is on a sportier course, with orbits tilted to loop the spacecraft above and below Saturn's equatorial plane," said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "You cannot see the polar regions very well from an equatorial orbit. Observing the planet from different vantage points reveals more about the cloud layers that cover the entirety of the planet."
Cassini recently witnessed another huge thunder and lightning storm on Saturn that stretched about 190,000 miles in circumference. This storm lasted for 201 days, but eventually met its end when it ran into its own tail and engulfed itself. One scientist said if this big of a storm was on Earth, it would have sucked up the entire volume of Earth's atmosphere in 150 days.
“This thunder-and-lightning storm on Saturn was a beast,” Sayanagi said in a statement. “The storm maintained its intensity for an unusually long time.”