NASA has obtained first of its kind imagery of a truly gargantuan storm on Saturn with an eye that spans the equivalent distance of about Washington, D.C. to Dallas.
Via NASA: “Image taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2012, using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light. The images filtered at 890 nanometers are projected as blue. The images filtered at 728 nanometers are projected as green, and images filtered at 752 nanometers are projected as red. In this scheme, red indicates low clouds and green indicates high ones. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 261,000 miles (419,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 94 degrees. Image scale is 1 mile (2 kilometers) per pixel.” The eye, by itself, is 30 percent wider than Hurricane Sandy in its entirety (it had gale force winds extending 945 miles across the storm; its eye, by comparison, was just 25 miles wide) and 20 times wider than the eye of the typical hurricane on Earth.
Like hurricanes on Earth, NASA says, the eye is mostly cloud-free.
“Other similar features include high clouds forming an eye wall, other high clouds spiraling around the eye, and a counter-clockwise spin in the northern hemisphere,” NASA writes.
Via NASA: “Image taken with Cassini’s wide-angle camera using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light. The images filtered at 890 nanometers are projected as blue. The images filtered at 728 nanometers are projected as green, and images filtered at 752 nanometers are projected as red. At Saturn, this scheme means colors correlate to different altitudes in the planet’s polar atmosphere: red indicates deep, while green shows clouds that are higher in altitude. High clouds are typically associated with locations of intense upwelling in a storm. These images help scientists learn the distribution and frequencies of such storms. The rings are bright blue in this color scheme because there is no methane gas between the ring particles and the camera. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 261,000 miles (419,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 94 degrees. Image scale is 13 miles (22 kilometers) per pixel.” NASA says clouds are swirling around the storm at 330 mph with eyewall wind speeds four times as strong as hurricane-force winds on Earth.
The storm is nearly stationary, locked into a position at Saturn’s north pole.
“The polar hurricane has nowhere else to go, and that’s likely why it’s stuck at the pole,” says NASA’s Kunio Sayanagi.
Related: NASA Probe Gets Close Views of Large Saturn Hurricane
NASA believes the storm has been positioned at Saturn’s north pole for a number of years, but only now has obtained high resolution visible imagery to capture details of the storm.
Navigators recently changed the angle of orbit of the Saturn-observing spacecraft Cassini to get a better glimpse of the poles.
“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,” says NASA scientist Scott Edgington.
NASA provides a nice video about this tempest of astronomical proportions:
Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.