Cassini Spacecraft Captures Saturn's Monster Storm - NBC Southern California

Cassini Spacecraft Captures Saturn's Monster Storm

Stunning images of the storm prompted a "double take" from scientists, who hope to learn more about how it's using water vapor to generate powerful winds



    A storm on Saturn churning at 330-mph with an eye about 20 times the size of a typical hurricane was captured in dramatic imagery provided by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

    The storm's eye, estimated at about 1,250 miles wide, stunned scientists.

    "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. "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."

    Studying the Saturn storm might help scientists learn more about hurricanes, which are fed by warm ocean water. Scientists hope to learn how the Saturn storm -- it's located high in the planet's atmosphere -- thrives on water vapor to generate such violent speed.

    Earth's hurricanes and the Saturn storm have similarities, such as a central eye with no or low clouds, high clouds forming an eye wall and a counter-clockwise spin in the northern hemisphere. But the size and speed differences are immense.

    Wind speed at the storm's eye wall is about four times that of hurricane winds on Earth.

    And, unlike Earth's hurricanes, this one doesn't appear to be going anywhere. The storm is stalled on the planet's north pole, where it has probably been whipping around for years.

    Cassini -- the spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004 -- only recently had the opportunity to capture images of the vortex in visible light.

    The storm looks like a giant red rose on a green background because of Cassini's imaging filters. Red indicates low clouds, green indicates high clouds.

    Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

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