Monster Storm On Saturn
November 11, 2006 Leave a comment
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has seen something never before seen on another planet — a hurricane-like storm at Saturn’s South Pole with a well-developed eye, ringed by towering clouds.
The “hurricane” spans a dark area inside a thick, brighter ring of clouds. It is approximately 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) across, or two thirds the diameter of Earth.
The images — essentially a 14-frame movie — were captured over a period of three hours on October 11 by the U.S. space agency’s Cassini spacecraft as it passed about 210,000 miles from the planet as part of its exploration of Saturn and its moons.
Michael Flasar, an astrophysicist involved in the mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said the storm looks just like water swirling down the drain in a bath tub, only on a gigantic scale.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” Flasar said in an interview. “It’s a spectacular-looking storm.”
Infrared images taken by the Keck I telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, had previously shown Saturn’s South Pole to be warm. Cassini’s composite infrared spectrometer has confirmed this with higher-resolution temperature maps of the area. The spectrometer observed a temperature increase of about 2 Kelvin (4 degrees Fahrenheit) at the pole. The instrument measured high temperatures in the upper troposphere and stratosphere, regions higher in the atmosphere than the clouds seen by the Cassini imaging instruments.