NASA's Cassini spacecraft and a European Southern Observatory ground-based telescope tracked the growth of a giant early-spring storm in Saturn's northern hemisphere that is said to be so powerful that it stretches around the entire planet.
The rare storm has been wreaking havoc for months and shooting plumes of gas high into the planet's atmosphere.
Nothing on Earth comes close to this powerful storm. A storm like this is rare. This is only the sixth one to be recorded since 1876, and the last was way back in 1990, stated Leigh Fletcher, the study's lead author and a Cassini team scientist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
This is the first major storm on Saturn observed by an orbiting spacecraft and studied at thermal infrared wavelengths, where Saturn's heat energy reveals atmospheric temperatures, winds and composition within the disturbance.
Our new observations show that the storm had a major effect on the atmosphere, transporting energy and material over great distances, modifying the atmospheric winds, creating meandering jet streams and forming giant vortices and disrupting Saturn's slow seasonal evolution, stated Glenn Orton, a paper co-author, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
The violence of the storm has been the strongest disturbances ever detected in Saturn's stratosphere that took researchers by surprise. It initially started as an ordinary disturbance deep in Saturn's atmosphere that gradually punched through the planet's serene cloud cover to roil the high layer known as the stratosphere.
Check exclusive image of the Saturn storm below: