London: Scientists analysing data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft now have the first-ever, up-close details of a Saturn storm that is eight times the surface area of Earth.
Cassini first detected the storm on December 5, 2010, that has been raging ever since. It appears at approximately 35 degrees north latitude on Saturn.
Pictures from Cassini’s imaging cameras show the storm wrapping around the entire planet covering approximately 1.5 billion square miles (4 billion square kilometres).
The storm is about 500 times larger than the biggest storm previously seen by Cassini during several months from 2009 to 2010.
Scientists studied the sounds of the new storm’s lightning strikes and analysed images taken between December 2010 and February 2011.
Data from Cassini’s radio and plasma wave science instrument showed the lightning flash rate as much as 10 times more frequent than during other storms monitored since Cassini’s arrival to Saturn in 2004.
“Cassini shows us that Saturn is bipolar,” Andrew Ingersoll, an author of the study and a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., said.
“Saturn is not like Earth and Jupiter, where storms are fairly frequent. Weather on Saturn appears to hum along placidly for years and then erupt violently. I’m excited we saw weather so spectacular on our watch,” he said.
Scientists created a sound file from data obtained on March 15 at a slightly lower intensity period.
“This storm is thrilling because it shows how shifting seasons and solar illumination can dramatically stir up the weather on Saturn,” Georg Fischer, the paper’s lead author and a radio and plasma wave science team member at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Graz, said.
The data appears in a paper published this week in the journal Nature.