This is our first close-up view of the massive hurricane swirling at the northern tip of Saturn, a storm that features winds travelling at a rate of 150 meters per second and an eye that’s 20 times larger than the average hurricane on Earth.
The unprecedented high-resolution images were made possible for two reasons. First, spring has finally arrived at the North Pole, lifting the dark cloak that had obscured the area for years. And second, the NASA team changed Cassini’s angle of orbit to allow for the view.
Image: A false color image taken at a distance of ~261,000 miles (419,000). Red indicates low clouds and green indicates high ones.
The eye of the hurricane is about 1,250 miles (2,000) wide, and it swirls inside a large hexagon-shaped weather pattern. It’s located at the very tip-top of the planet where it’s locked in place and unable to migrate.
Image: A natural color view of the storm as it's illuminated by the sun. Check out Saturn's rings at top right.
"We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth," said Andrew Ingersoll through a statement, who is a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "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."
Image: False-color image. The eye is featured in red, while the fast-moving hexagonal jet stream appears in yellowish green. Low lying clouds are featured in muted orange. The rings of Saturn are shown in vivd blue at top right.
The hurricane is a bit of a mystery as it’s somehow being fueled by the gasses and jet streams underneath and around it. Hurricanes on Earth are driven by warm ocean water.
All images via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI.