Oct 28, 2008

The eye of the storm

Vortex at Saturn’s southern pole. Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Inst

The images above, captured in July, are ten times more detailed than any taken before of this phenomenon. Experts say the vortex is not unlike a hurricane here on Earth…except it rages all the time, and it is anchored to the pole. And it is much larger than any terrestrial storm, about the diameter of the Earth itself, with wind speeds nearing 350 miles per hour.

Like a hurricane, the vortex is awash in convective atmospheric turnover, with warmer gases being pumped up and away from the interior. A detailed image of the eye itself show smaller storms within it…in previous images these just looked like puffy clouds.

Scientists are interested in studying this vortex because it will help them better understand the dynamics of Saturn’s atmosphere. It’s yet another fascinating target for Cassini as it continues its tour of the Saturn system — the rings, the moons (especially Titan, which is often compared to the primordial Earth, and the geyser moon Enceladus), and these intriguing weather systems.

adapted from: CNN Science & Technology


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