Saturn’s “Storm Alley”

Cassini image of Saturn's stormy southern equatorial belt

Dark swirling vortices march along Saturn’s “storm alley” in this section of an image taken by Cassini on May 19, 2008. (It was recently uploaded as a featured image on JPL’s Flickr page.)

Storms on Saturn are huge and powerful, with winds blowing many hundreds of miles per hour and often featuring lightning ten thousand times stronger than any seen on Earth. The storms often occur as eddies within Saturn’s jet streams – the atmospheric bands that carry clouds east or west around the planet. Research has discovered that, rather than being created by the friction of the jet streams, Saturn’s storms actually power the jet streams, since they tend to travel along with them. Scientists speculate that this process is what helps Saturn maintain its atmospheric bands and high winds.

The image above is a crop of the original, and I sharpened it and adjusted the curves to enhance detail. The texture in the clouds is often referred to as “coffee-and-cream”, resembling the delicate swirls seen in a hot cup of cappuccino. Make mine a venti!

Image credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.

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