Cassini Spacecraft Reveals Unprecedented Saturn Storm

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John Matson
Scientific American
January 18, 2013

photoA true-color image captured by Cassini in February 2011 shows the head of the storm overtaking the fainter, turbulent tail. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Just as regions of our planet have monsoon season, or tornado season, so too does Saturn have its own stormy season.

Once every Saturn year or so—which corresponds to roughly 30 Earth years—a giant, churning storm works its way through the clouds of Saturn’s northern hemisphere, sometimes encircling the entire planet like a belt. Lasting a few dozen days or more, these storms have been documented as far back as 1876.

The sixth giant Saturnian storm on record arrived a bit early, kicking off in late 2010, just 20 years after the previous storm. The timing proved fortuitous for planetary astronomers, who currently have a dedicated orbiter called Cassini stationed at the ringed planet. And Cassini’s ringside seat, so to speak, has afforded the NASA spacecraft quite a show.

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This article was posted: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm

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