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Look Into The Dark Eye of Saturn’s Southern Storm

Saturn’s southern vortex, imaged by Cassini in July 2008.  South is facing up in this color image. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Jason Major)

I know I said in my previous post that the Solar System is not a vortex (and it’s not) but that doesn’t mean there are no vortexes in the Solar System—in fact, thanks to the churning atmospheres of the gas giants, it’s full of them! And that’s no better demonstrated than at the poles of Saturn, where giant hurricane-like storms spin away year after year, powered by atmospheric convection and the rapid rotation of the planet.

I’ve often posted about the vortex at the north pole of Saturn—and yes it’s quite impressive—but there’s also a similar feature at Saturn’s south pole as well, albeit a bit more subtle and much less turbulent. The image above is a color view, made from raw data acquired in red, green, blue, and polarized light by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on July 15, 2008. That was a just over a year before Saturn’s spring equinox and the planet’s south pole was moving into shadow, but still had enough illumination for Cassini to capture some images.

Check out a more direct view down into the vortex below:

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Look Into the Blood-Red Eye of Saturn’s Polar Hurricane

The spinning vortex over Saturn’s north pole, imaged by Cassini. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

The spinning vortex over Saturn’s north pole, imaged by Cassini. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

An incredible 1,200-mile-wide vortex of spiraling clouds swirling above Saturn’s north pole is seen in all its glory in this stunning image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, originally captured last year but recently released by NASA on April 29.

Taking advantage of a new orbital trajectory that puts it high above Saturn’s rings and poles, Cassini acquired the near-infrared images used to make this composite back on Nov. 27, 2012. The resulting image is false color — our eyes aren’t sensitive to those particular wavelengths of light — but still no less amazing!

Read the rest of my article here.

From the LITD Archives: Saturn’s Southern Storm

Originally posted on March 3, 2009:

South Pole Storms

Saturns South Pole Storm (south faces up in this image)

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 300 mph.

This photo shows an area over 3,000 miles (4828 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:

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Thanks to the special camera filters aboard the Cassini orbiter Saturn’s cloud layers can be pierced for further study…there’s still so much to be learned about the ringed planet!

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Read on LightsInTheDark.com

A Saturn-Sized Storm

Earlier this week the Cassini spacecraft captured this image of an eddying storm in Saturn’s northern hemisphere. Nearly as large as the Earth, the bright clouds have been visible to amateur astronomers for several weeks and on December 27 Cassini was able to get a nice view of its own from orbit! Fantastic.

See more images of this storm on the Cassini Imaging Center site here.

(Also, check out the moon shadow sneaking along Saturn’s southern limb!)

Image: NASA / JPL / SSI.

ADDED: see a color version of this image, in patented MethanoVision by Mike Malaska!

Spot On

Eye of the storm: detail from Björn Jónsson's mosaic of Jupiter's Great Red Spot from Voyager 1 data

Skillfully reworked by astrophotographer and Unmanned Spaceflight member Björn Jónsson, this section from a Voyager 1 image mosaic shows the Great Red Spot as it appeared in March of 1979 in amazing detail…with sunlight coming from the right side, the sense of the clouds really being three-dimensional and that you’re looking down through layers and layers of Jupiter’s giant and swirling atmosphere is, to me, simply staggering. It almost looks more like a close-up of a Van Gogh or Edvard Munch painting rather than a churning hurricane over twice the size of our entire planet!

I cropped and did some slight curve adjustments of my own to heighten the detail even further (because I can’t help myself), but be sure to check out the full-sized original, and read the article on Discover Magazine’s Bad Astronomy blog here or on The Planetary Society’s blog here.

“This image looks sufficiently different (and better!) from the old, official versions that in a way I feel like I’m processing stuff from a new planetary encounter when I see this. We will probably not be seeing anything comparable to this until EJSM (or some future spacecraft) starts orbiting Jupiter.”

– Björn Jónsson

Thirty-one years later and we’re still finding new surprises in space exploration data. How great is that!? Superb work, Björn!

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Björn Jónsson

Inside the Hurricane

Infrared image of the Great Red Spot

Temperature differences within Jupiter's giant storms revealed

Great Red Spot from Voyager 1

The largest storm in the solar system, Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, is a monstrous 15,000-mile-wide hurricane that’s been swirling in the giant planet’s mid-lower latitudes for at least 300 years. It’s believed that the storm’s colors are caused by the different elements within Jupiter’s upper atmosphere… ammonia, methane, water, hydrocarbons and other chemicals that create a varied palette of oranges, whites and browns. Recently an infrared instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) peered into the Great Red Spot and revealed regions of hot and cold swirls that had never been seen before, giving a new sense of structure to the storm and causality to the color variations seen in visible light.

“We once thought the Great Red Spot was a plain old oval without much structure, but these new results show that it is, in fact, extremely complicated.”

– Glenn Orton, team leader

Although it has decreased in size since the Voyager 1 spacecraft first imaged it closely in 1979, the Great Red Spot is still large enough to contain two or thee Earths side-by-side within it.

Read more in AstronomyNow’s article First look at weather inside Jupiter’s red spot.

Image: ESO/NASA/JPL/ESA/L. Fletcher

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