Thanks to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft scientists have caught the first glimpse of a hurricane 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide within an ambiguous six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon. The eye alone is twenty times larger than any storm ever recorded on Earth with wind speeds reaching 330mph (150 meters per second), swirling around Saturn’s north pole. Scientists will be studying the storm closely in an effort to find a deeper understanding of Earth’s own hurricanes. While there is no actual body of water near to this particular storm the study will be based on the way in which Saturn’s atmosphere uses the water vapor contained within it.
Last week on the NASA website, Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena stated, “We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth. But there it is at Saturn, on a much larger scale, and it is somehow getting by on the small amounts of water vapor in Saturn’s hydrogen atmosphere.”
The intense similarities between Earth’s hurricanes and the storms on Saturn are striking, even given the vast difference in the atmospheric compositions of the two planets. Saturn’s atmosphere is primarily made of the simple molecules hydrogen and helium. There is also a large quantity of sulfur, which gives the planet its yellowish hue. The storm spied by Cassini on Saturn has been in rotation since at least 2004, when the spacecraft first arrived at the planet. The hurricane appears to be stuck at the north pole. Without a major change in the atmosphere of the planet, it is anyone’s guess just how long it will remain.