New data from the ESO and Cassini Orbiter have allowed astronomers to gaze into a spectacular storm in Saturn’s atmosphere.
Saturn's Superstorm Credit: ESO/University of Oxford/L. N. Fletcher/T. Barry
Saturn is generally a fairly serene world when viewed from Earth, with gently changing cloud banks and the odd small storm (in reality winds upwards of 200 kph are constantly ripping through the planet’s atmosphere though the upper cloud storms remain relatively calm throughout), though once every 30 or so years a truly monster storm is blown up.
Caused by the warming of Saturn’s northern hemisphere as it enters spring, a massive storm stirs from deep within the atmosphere.
Such storms have only been detected on the planet six times in the history of the telescope, and this is the first such storm that has been observed in the infra-red and by an orbiting spacecraft.
Indeed the storm was first detected by the radio and plasma wave science instrument on the Cassini Orbiter, and has been tracked by amateurs since December 2010.
The storm has now been imaged in spectacular detail by Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) and the ESO’s VISIR infra-red spectrometer on the Very Large in Telescope in Chile.