SATURN’S TEMPESTUOUS ATMOSPHERE
This image of a massive storm on Saturn was taken by the Cassini orbiter on March 6, 2011. The storm developed in December 2010; the head of the storm can be seen towards the left of the image while the trace of a spinning vortex can be seen towards the centre. Cassini monitored the temperature of the storm, and a rapid spike in temperature was observed as energy was released into the atmosphere.
The image is centred around 0º longitude and 35º N latitude on the ringed planet, and has had its colours enhanced so the processes involved in Saturn’s weather systems can be better examined. Although white features in the image correspond to the highest of the clouds, to a human eye the storm would appear as a bright region against a yellow background.
The storm’s size grew to the point where if it was on Earth, it would have covered all of Europe. Storms of this size usually occur once during each of Saturn’s orbits around the Sun (~30 Earth years). This event occurred during the planet’s northern hemisphere spring; summers on Saturn are usually the stormy season.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University