A great spiraling whirlpool of wind-whipped clouds wraps around Saturn’s southern pole, photographed here in polarized infrared light by Cassini on July 15, 2008. Towering white clouds mark areas of rising heat from deep within the atmosphere. The winds around the vortex have been measured at over 300mph (480 km/h).
This photo shows an area over 3,000 miles (4,828 km) wide.
Using special filters the cloud structures and wind patterns of Saturn become visible, showing the incredible ferocity of its atmosphere. In visible wavelenghts Saturn appears rather calm and smooth but viewed in another light its true nature is seen:
Thanks to the special camera filters aboard the Cassini-Huygens orbiter, Saturn’s cloud layers can be pierced for further study. There’s still much to be learned about the ringed planet. Learn more about the ongoing Cassini mission here.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute