Saturn’s Southern Cyclone

South Pole Storms
South Pole Storms

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


  1. Lauri says:

    I am always in awe of the tiny range of temperatures, atmospheric conditions, radiation levels that life on Earth can survive in.
    And somehow this planet has just the right buffer zones, the oceans, the atmosphere, whatever it needs to let life continue here.

    Listening to scientists talk about Saturn’s crazy atmosphere makes it seem miraculous that life has developed anywhere.

    I wonder what kind of creature could survive 300 mph winds.


    1. J. Major says:

      It’s true…our range of habitability is rather narrow. We can’t go too hot, too cold, too high, too deep, etc. without mechanical protection, and that’s just on Earth. Get past our tepid little pocket of ground-hugging air and we’re goners.

      Like colonies of bacteria that evolved stuck to a rock in a hot spring, we’re pretty much beholden to this spot in the universe. For any foreseeable future, anyway.

      We better take care of our rock.


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