NASA releases stunning photos of massive storm on Saturn

30 Apr 2013

This false-colour image from NASA's Cassini mission captures a storm at Saturn's north pole. The eye of the hurricane-like storm appears red while the jet stream framing it is yellowish-green. Saturn's rings are in blue. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

The spinning vortex of a hurricane-like storm with an eye 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth has been captured over Saturn by US space agency NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

NASA has said the storm, which has been churning over Saturn’s north pole, has an eye measuring 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) across and cloud speeds as fast as 150 metres per second (330 m/ph).

Scientists believe the massive storm has been churning for years, NASA said.

“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 vapour in Saturn’s hydrogen atmosphere.”

Scientists will study the Saturn storm to gain insight into hurricanes on Earth, which feed off warm ocean water. Although there is no body of water close to the clouds high in Saturn’s atmosphere, learning how these Saturnian storms use water vapour could tell scientists more about how terrestrial hurricanes are generated and sustained, NASA said.

Cassini’s narrow-angle camera snapped the storm about 419,000 kilometres (261,000 miles) from the planet on 27 November 2012.

The images are among the first sunlit views of Saturn’s north pole, NASA said. When Cassini arrived within the planet’s system in 2004, it was northern winter and darkness enveloped the pole.

To take the photos of the storm on Saturn, Cassini’s camera used a combination of spectral filters, NASA said. In the image below, the green indicates low clouds, and the red indicates high clouds.

Saturn storm

Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic