Thursday, July 7, 2011
Scientists get first up-close images of Saturn storm
LOS ANGELES, July 6 (Xinhua) -- NASA scientists have got the first-ever, up-close details of a Saturn storm that is eight times the surface area of Earth, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL) announced on Wednesday.
The images were captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraf, according to JPL in Pasadena, Los Angeles.
On Dec. 5, 2010, Cassini first detected the storm that has been raging ever since. It appears approximately 35 degrees north latitude of Saturn.
The storm is the biggest observed by spacecraft orbiting or flying by Saturn. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured images in 1990 of an equally large storm.
Pictures from Cassini's imaging cameras show the storm wrapping around the entire planet covering approximately two billion square miles (4 billion square kilometers).
The storm is about 500 times larger than the biggest storm previously seen by Cassini during several months from 2009 to 2010. At its most intense, the storm generated more than 10 lightning flashes per second.
Cassini has detected 10 lightning storms on Saturn since the spacecraft entered the planet's orbit.
Those storms rolled through an area in the southern hemisphere dubbed "Storm Alley." "Cassini shows us that Saturn is bipolar," said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. "Saturn is not like Earth and Jupiter, where storms are fairly frequent. Weather on Saturn appears to hum along placidly for years and then erupt violently. I'm excited we saw weather so spectacular on our watch."
The new details about this storm complement atmospheric disturbances described recently by scientists using Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's JPL manages the mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.