NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first close-up of the spinning vortex of Saturn‘s north polar storm. The giant hurricane resembles a deep red rose of giant proportions surrounded by green foliage, in this false-color image. Image © NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
Measurements have sized the eye at a staggering 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) across with cloud speeds as fast as 330 miles per hour (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.
“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.”
A video about a hurricane-like storm seen at Saturn’s north pole by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
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