Cassini Gets Close-up Views of Large Hurricane on Saturn

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NASA's Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first close-up, visible-light views of a behemoth hurricane swirling around Saturn's north pole.


In high-resolution pictures and video, scientists see the hurricane's eye is about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide, 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. Thin, bright clouds at the outer edge of the hurricane are traveling 330 mph (150 meters per second). The hurricane swirls inside a large, mysterious, six-sided weather pattern known as the 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 will be studying the hurricane to gain insight into hurricanes on Earth, which feed off warm ocean water. Although there is no body of water close to these clouds high in Saturn's atmosphere, learning how these Saturnian storms use water vapor could tell scientists more about how terrestrial hurricanes are generated and sustained.

Both a terrestrial hurricane and Saturn's north polar vortex have a central eye with no clouds or very low clouds. Other similar features include high clouds forming an eye wall, other high clouds spiraling around the eye, and a counter-clockwise spin in the northern hemisphere.

Written By: NASA
continue to source article at saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

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  1. If I were a certain kind theist I would feel honour bound to comment on the appearance of horned devil shapes with curly tails dancing around eternal flames in the centre of this image, and remind all atheists that this is what they can look forward to when they shuffle off this mortal coil.
    Fortunately I am (relatively) sane and limit myself to gazing at images like this in awe of what we can achieve with projects like Cassini, and hoping I live another 50 years to see what we can do by then.

    • In reply to #1 by headswapboy:

      If I were a certain kind theist ..

      This kind of obligatory snipe at the religious turns up on every article, whatever the subject. Can’t we just enjoy the science items without this shit? What’s it for? Who are you trying to impress, or annoy?

      • In reply to #4 by OHooligan:

        In reply to #1 by headswapboy:

        If I were a certain kind theist ..

        This kind of obligatory snipe at the religious turns up on every article, whatever the subject. Can’t we just enjoy the science items without this shit? What’s it for? Who are you trying to impress, or annoy?

        Fair point, and you’re right… the science here is amazing.

  2. The atmosphere of Saturn is quite strange when compared to Earth!

    http://www.esa.int/Our-Activities/Space-Science/Cassini-Huygens/Saturn-s-atmosphere

    Saturn is one of the windiest places in the Solar System, and wind speeds have been clocked at a staggering 1800 kilometres per hour at the equator. Occasionally, violent ‘white’ storms break through the cloud layers, each one bigger than Earth. The last of these was observed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in 1994. Smaller storms occur as darker spots, and have been shown in recent Cassini-Huygens images.

    There are three regions in Saturn’s troposhere (the part of the atmosphere where ‘weather’ occurs) where clouds of a particular kind, or ‘cloud decks’, are to be found.

    The location of the clouds is predicted based on the temperature at which vapour will condense into droplets. The point at which condensation occurs, on a temperature profile, is where the clouds ought to be.

    The temperature in the troposphere ranges from about -130°C to about +80°C.

    The top visible cloud deck, made of ammonia clouds, is found at about 100 kilometres below the top of the troposhere (tropopause), where the temperature is about -250°C.

    The second cloud deck, made of ammonium hydrosulphide clouds, is found at about 170 kilometres below the tropopause, where the temperature is -70°C.

    The lowest cloud deck, made of water clouds, is found at about 130 kilometres below the tropopause, where the temperature is about 0°C (freezing point of water).

    The hydrogen gas that makes up most of the atmosphere slowly changes to liquid with depth as the pressure increases. Below the liquid hydrogen rests the heavier liquid helium.

    Deep in the depths of the body of Saturn, the hydrogen is then under tremendous pressure, and is transformed to liquid metallic hydrogen. It is believed that a rocky core about ten times the mass of the Earth exists at the centre.

    The high pressures inside massive planets, create some exotic forms of materials not present on Earth.

    • In reply to #3 by bluebird:

      Doubly favorably impressive in that the storm is situated inside the mysterious hexagon.

      Obviously it was a wise move to extend Cassini’s mission.

      So far so good, but when the attitude control thrusters run out of fuel – and it can no longer adjust its orbit, (with communication dishes and cameras no longer stable or steerable), that is as far as it will extend! Likewise if the reaction gyroscopes fail!

      Cassini Switches to Backup Thrusters – by Anne Minard on March 12, 2009

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