Storm for Five Years Detected on Saturn

The size of the storm was as big as the continent of Europe. Its vortex diameter reaches more than 4,000 kilometers.

The size of the storm was as big as the continent of Europe. Its vortex diameter reaches more than 4,000 kilometers.

Researchers from the University of the Basque Country (UPV / EHU) has been monitoring the storms on Saturn for more than five years. This is the longest storm is detected to date in one of the giant planets in the Solar System. Images from Cassini used to conduct this research.

“The storm – where the wind changed into the same direction – do not usually last for a long time, so we were interested to find one that has been occurring for several years at Saturn,” said Teresa del Río-Gaztelurrutia, study lead author and a researcher at the UPV / EHU Planetary Sciences Group.

The team began tracking the storm in 2004, the same year as the plane Cassini (NASA-ESA-Italian Space Agency) began sending back images of Saturn. The scientists have been able to confirm the persistence of this large storm, whose size is as large as the continent of Europe. Its vortex diameter (oval-shaped circulation disorders) reached more than 4,000 kilometers.

“Our observations make this storm is longest ever seen in the giant planets in the Solar System, Jupiter and Saturn,” said the researchers, while acknowledging that “we still know little about the types of structure.”

Nevertheless, the research team has analyzed the horizontal morphology of the cyclone, the vertical cloud structure and dynamics, as well as creating an internal model of the storm circulation and its interaction with external winds, using mathematical simulation. The results have been published recently in the journal Icarus.

A storm that lasted more than five years, which was detected at Saturn. (Credit: Cassini ISS / Del Río-Gaztelurrutia, etc.)

Wind is weak on the inside

It is very difficult to measure the internal wind vortex due to poor image contrast, but researchers have been able to detect that the wind was “not very intense” than the movement of the storm itself. Storm moving at whirlwind speed of 245 km / h, dragged by a strong jet stream, while the maximum wind speed around the edge is only 72 km / h.

“Another reason why the storm that caught our attention is the visual display, which is very reminiscent of the Great Dark Spot us in Neptune, which – like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter – is an anti-storm,” said Teresa del Río. In the anti-storm, the wind turned against the direction of rotation of the planet, and far more stable. That is, the vortices they last longer than the storm on the giant planet.

In contrast to the anti-big and long-term storm on Jupiter, a storm at Saturn has a weak circulation, with properties very similar to those in the surrounding environment.

The scientists are waiting impatiently for the data in 2010 so they can figure out how disorders has evolved over the past year. The latest data available is for 2009, as NASA released images from Cassini with a grace period of one year.

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