Karela Fry

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The lord of the rings

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The huge storm churning through the atmosphere in Saturn's northern hemisphere overtakes itself as it encircles the planet in this true-color view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

A great spectacle is unfolding in the solar system, and it is giving rise to wonderful science. Nature reports:

Saturn caught the attention of astronomers in early December 2010 when a small, prominent white spot appeared in its normally bland and hazy northern hemisphere. During the ensuing days, this spot grew in size to a diameter approaching that of Earth and developed a ‘tail’ of white clouds that spread eastwards until, two months later, it almost encircled the entire planet. Just five similar Great White Spot (GWS) events have been documented1, 2 in the past 130 years. The events recurred at intervals of roughly Saturn’s annual timescale of around 30 Earth years. What seems to be different about this occurrence are the unexpectedly early timing of its appearance (Saturn has only just begun its spring season in the northern hemisphere); its large size and powerful intensity; and the unprecedented observational resources available to measure and monitor its evolution.

In two papers published in this issue … teams of observers, involving both ground-based astronomers (amateur and professional) and those recording data from NASA’s Cassini orbiter spacecraft, present some of the most detailed observations so far of such a dramatic event. These observations reveal with great clarity that the GWS comprises a massive complex of convective thunderstorms, upwelling heat energy and moisture from levels deep within Saturn’s atmosphere, accompanied by huge and almost continuous lightning discharges.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

July 8, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Posted in science, space

Tagged with , , ,

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