A false color image of Saturn's giant hurricane, which closely resembles a rose.
A false color image of Saturn’s giant hurricane, which closely resembles a rose.

By Claire

Now before we all resort to name calling, I realise that a giant rose wasn’t actually discovered on Saturn on Monday. What was discovered however, is a giant hurricane centred on the planet’s north pole – an equally as exciting discovery!

It has been known for a number of years that a strange hexagonal shaped weather phenomenon was located on Saturn’s north pole. However, the orientation of the planet relative to the sun has meant that this feature has remained in darkness since its discovery in 2004. In August of 2009, Saturn finally transitioned into spring, bathing this weather anomaly in light for the first time, allowing the Cassini spacecraft, which is currently orbiting the planet, to properly study it.

What Cassini discovered was a giant hurricane stuck at the planet’s north pole. The size of this storm is unlike anything experienced on Earth. The eye of the hurricane is approximately 2000km across (which is roughly the distance between Australia and New Zealand), more than 20x larger than the average hurricane on Earth. The winds at the outer edge of the storm are travelling at speeds of 540km/hr – the strongest winds ever recorded on Earth are only around 315km/hr.

One of the big questions to come out of this discovery is related to the driver of this storm. On Earth, hurricanes are fuelled by warm ocean temperatures and water vapour. There is very little water vapour on Saturn and scientists are unsure as to what is driving this storm.

Scientists hope to learn more about this hurricane in order to better understand hurricanes on Earth.

 

You can read the full press release from NASA here.