Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Hot Cyclones Churn At Both Ends Of Saturn

Date:
January 15, 2008
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Despite more than a decade of winter darkness, Saturn's north pole is home to an unexpected hot spot remarkably similar to one at the planet's sunny south pole. The source of its heat is a mystery. Now, the first detailed views of the gas giant's high latitudes from the Cassini spacecraft reveal a matched set of hot cyclonic vortices, one at each pole.

This image shows newly discovered "hot spot" on Saturn's north pole and the mysterious hexagon that encircles the pole.
Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC/Oxford University

Despite more than a decade of winter darkness, Saturn's north pole is home to an unexpected hot spot remarkably similar to one at the planet's sunny south pole. The source of its heat is a mystery. Now, the first detailed views of the gas giant's high latitudes from the Cassini spacecraft reveal a matched set of hot cyclonic vortices, one at each pole.

Related Articles


While scientists already knew about the hot spot at Saturn's south pole from previous observations by the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the north pole vortex was a surprise.

"We had speculated that the south pole hot spot was connected to the southern, sunlit conditions," said Glenn Orton, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and co-investigator on Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer. "Since the north pole has been deprived of sunlight since the arrival of winter in 1995, we didn't expect to find a similar feature there."

The infrared data show that the shadowed north pole vortex shares much the same structure and temperature as the one at the sunny south pole. The cores of both show a depletion of phospine gas, an imbalance probably caused by air moving downward into the lowest part of Saturn's atmosphere, the troposphere. Both polar vortices appear to be long-lasting and intrinsic parts of Saturn and are not related to the amount of sunlight received by one pole or the other.

"The hot spots are the result of air moving polewards, being compressed and heated up as it descends over the poles into the depths of Saturn," said Leigh Fletcher, a planetary scientist from the University of Oxford, England, and the lead author of the Science paper.* "The driving forces behind the motion, and indeed the global motion of Saturn's atmosphere, still need to be understood."

Though similar, the two polar regions differ in one striking way. At the north pole, the newly discovered vortex is framed by the distinctive, long-lived and still unexplained polar hexagon. This mysterious feature encompassing the entire north pole was first spotted in the 1980s by NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft. Cassini's infrared cameras also detected the hexagon in deep atmospheric clouds early in 2007.

In their paper, Fletcher and his colleagues report that the bright, warm hexagon is much higher than previous studies had shown. "It extends right to the top of the troposphere," says Fletcher. "It is associated with downward motion in the troposphere, though the cause of the hexagonal structure requires further study."

Winter lasts about 15 years on Saturn. Researchers anticipate that when the seasons change in the coming years and Saturn's north pole is once again in sunlight, they will be able to see a swirling vortex with high eye walls and dark central clouds like the one now visible at the south pole. "But Saturn may surprise us again," says Fletcher.

"The fact that Neptune shows a similar south polar hot spot whets our appetite for the strange dynamics of the poles of the other gas giants," Fletcher says.

More information about Jupiter's poles will come from NASA's Juno mission, currently scheduled for launch in 2011 and arrival in 2016.

*The researchers report their findings in detail in the Jan. 4 issue of Science. Fletcher's research was funded by the United Kingdom's Science and Technology Facilities Council.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Hot Cyclones Churn At Both Ends Of Saturn." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 January 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080114084332.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2008, January 15). Hot Cyclones Churn At Both Ends Of Saturn. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080114084332.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Hot Cyclones Churn At Both Ends Of Saturn." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080114084332.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NASA's First 3-D Printer In Space Creates Its First Object

NASA's First 3-D Printer In Space Creates Its First Object

Newsy (Nov. 26, 2014) The International Space Station is now using a proof-of-concept 3D printer to test additive printing in a weightless, isolated environment. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 25, 2014) Take a stab at this -- stunt video shows a lamb chop's journey from an east London restaurant over 30 kilometers into space. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Soyuz Spacecraft Docks With International Space Station: NASA

Soyuz Spacecraft Docks With International Space Station: NASA

AFP (Nov. 24, 2014) A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Italy's first female astronaut safely docks with the International Space Station, according to NASA. Duration: 00:40 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Multi-National Crew Safely Docks at Space Station

Multi-National Crew Safely Docks at Space Station

Reuters - US Online Video (Nov. 24, 2014) A Russian Soyuz rocket delivers a multi-national trio to the International Space Station. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins