On Saturn’s north pole, scientists have just discovered a storm bigger than any tempest ever seen on Earth.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been circling Saturn for nine years now, and has been paying particular attention to a hexagonal-shaped weather phenomenon at the planet’s north pole. Voyager 2 spotted the strange shape in 1981, but wasn't able to provide too much detail of the pole. The shape, outlined by what seems to be jetstream of fast-moving air high in the atmosphere, is wider across than 2 Earths put together. Until now, Cassini hasn't been able to see what’s at the center of the hexagon because the northern hemisphere has been locked in the darkness of winter.
Now, that it’s spring on Saturn, the answer is clear – the planet’s north pole plays host to a massive hurricane, shown in the photo below, originally snapped in November and the colorized version of which was released by NASA on Monday (note that the colors shown in the photo are added later – the storm isn’t actually red and green):
Based on Cassini’s observations, the storm’s eye alone is 1,250 miles across, and the winds are blowing at around 300 miles per hour. There are Texas-sized clouds in the storm’s center. It’s not clear how long the storm has been swirling around on Saturn.
What’s different about this hurricane is it’s anchored to the north pole, and there’s no ocean underneath. Scientists are still figuring out what powers this monster storm – Saturn’s atmosphere is mostly hydrogen, but does have a little water vapor. The storm may turn out to be quite a different beast from our terrestrial hurricanes.
Here’s another spectacular shot of Saturn’s north pole, with the planet’s rings hovering in the background:
And a better shot of the hexagonal phenomenon (that dark shape covering up part of Saturn's rings is the shadow of Jupiter):