NASA’s spacecraft Cassini took this amazing colorful picture of a Saturn storm that resembles a hurricane on Earth. The center eye of the storm on Saturn is about 1,250 miles wide. That’s 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth, that’s the distance between Dallas and Washington, DC.
Usually, hurricanes on Earth have a small eye and much larger outer bands. But incredibly on Saturn 1,250 miles is the distance of the center eye only. The entire storm could be several thousand miles more.
As for the wind speed in the storm, usually in hurricanes the strongest wind is in the center of the storm around what is called “the eye wall” of the hurricane, and tends to get weaker as you get to the edge of the hurricane. The wind speed on the outer edge of the cloud band of Saturn’s hurricane is 330 mph and the winds in the center eye are four times faster than some of the strongest hurricanes on Earth. To compare Saturn’s storm to hurricanes that affected the U.S., the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. was Camille in 1969 with winds of 190 mph.
One of the interesting facts is that usual hurricanes on Earth feed off the water vapor from the warm ocean water. That gives it the needed energy for the hurricane to develop. But on Saturn there is no body of water nearby for this storm to feed off. Instead it is feeding off of small amounts of water vapor in Saturn’s hydrogen atmosphere.
Another interesting fact: Hurricanes on Earth form usually in the tropical latitudes and move north due to the forces acting on them. But Saturn’s storm is located at the planet’s north pole that has made it stationary with nowhere further north to go. Because of this discovery, NASA scientists believe that it could have been there for years.
Only in 2009 sun began reaching the northern Hemisphere allowing Cassini spacecraft to capture these images. This is because Saturn’s seasons last nine years each, therefore their north pole is dark nine years at a time. So when the space craft first reached Saturn in 2004, the north pole was in the middle of winter.
NASA scientists will study this terrestrial hurricane-like storm because even though there are differences in size, strength and source of energy, it does carry similar characteristics such a central eye that has no clouds, counter clockwise spin in the northern Hemisphere, and high clouds circling the eye.