"The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean... Recently, we've managed to wade a little way out, and the water seems inviting." - Carl Sagan
Cassini sees Saturn storm’s explosive power
A monster storm that erupted on Saturn in late 2010 - as large as any storm ever observed on the ringed planet — has already impressed researchers with its intensity and long-lived turbulence. A new paper in the journal Icarus reveals another facet of the storm’s explosive power: its ability to churn up water ice from great depths. This finding, derived from near-infrared measurements by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, is the first detection at Saturn of water ice. The water originates from deep in Saturn’s atmosphere.
"The new finding from Cassini shows that Saturn can dredge up material from more than 100 miles [160 kilometers]," said Kevin Baines, a co-author of the paper who works at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "It demonstrates in a very real sense that typically demure-looking Saturn can be just as explosive or even more so than typically stormy Jupiter." Water ice, which originates from deep in the atmosphere of gas giants, doesn’t appear to be lofted as high at Jupiter.
Monster storms rip across the northern hemisphere of Saturn once every 30 years or so, or roughly once per Saturn year. The first hint of the most recent storm first appeared in data from Cassini’s radio and plasma wave subsystem on Dec. 5, 2010. Soon after that, it could be seen in images from amateur astronomers and from Cassini’s imaging science subsystem. The storm quickly grew to superstorm proportions, encircling the planet at about 30 degrees north latitude for an expanse of nearly 190,000 miles (300,000 kilometers).
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Univ. of Arizona/Univ. of Wisconsin