Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mystery of the gigantic storm on Saturn

Date:
June 24, 2013
Source:
Basque Research
Summary:
We now understand the nature of the giant storms on Saturn. Through the analysis of images as well as the computer models of the storms and the examination of the clouds therein, astronomers have managed to explain the behavior of these storms for the very first time.

In the upper part a detailed image in false colour of the storm on Saturn is shown. The lower part is a computer simulation of the storm.
Credit: UPV/EHU

We now understand the nature of the giant storms on Saturn. Through the analysis of images sent from the Cassini space probe belonging to the North American and European space agencies (NASA and ESA respectively), as well as the computer models of the storms and the examination of the clouds therein, the Planetary Sciences Group of the University of the Basque Country has managed to explain the behaviour of these storms for the very first time. The article explaining the discovery, the lead author being Enrique García Melendo, researcher at the Fundació Observatori Esteve Duran -- Institut de Ciències de l'Espai, of Catalonia, was published in Nature Geosciences.

Approximately once every Saturnian year -- equivalent to 30 Earth years -- an enormous storm is produced on the ringed planet and which affects the aspect of its atmosphere on a global scale. These gigantic storms are known as Great White Spots, due to the appearance they have on the atmosphere of the planet. The first observation of one of these was made in 1876; the Great White Spot of 2010 was the sixth one to be observed. On this occasion the Cassini space vehicle was able to obtain very high resolution images of this great meteorological structure. The storm initiated as a small brilliant white cloud in the middle latitudes of the northern hemisphere of the planet, and grew rapidly and remained active for more than seven months. Over this time an amalgam of white clouds was generated which expanded to form a cloudy and turbulent ring with a surface area of thousands of millions of square kilometres. Two year age the Planetary Sciences Group presented a first study of the storm and which was published on the front cover of Nature on the 7th of July, 2011. Now, with this new research, the hidden secrets of the phenomenon have been revealed, studying in detail the "head" and the "focus" of the Great White Spot.

The team of astronomers analysed the images taken from the Cassini probe in order to measure the winds in the "head" of the storm, the focus where the activity originated. In this region the storm interacts with the circulating atmosphere, forming very intense sustained winds, typically of 500 kilometres an hour. "We did not expect to find such violent circulation in the region of the development of the storm, which is a symptom of the particularly violent interaction between the storm and the planet's atmosphere," commented Enrique García. They were also able to determine that these storm clouds are at 40 km above the planet's own clouds.

Information about the mechanisms causing meteorological phenomena

The research revealed the mechanism that produces this phenomenology. The team of scientists designed mathematical models capable of reproducing the storm on a computer, providing a physical explanation for the behaviour of this giant storm and for its lengthy duration. The calculations show that the focus of the storm is deeply embedded, some 300 km above the visible clouds. The storm transports enormous quantities of moist gas in water vapour to the highest levels of the planet, forming visible clouds and liberating enormous quantities of energy. This injection of energy interacts violently with the dominant wind of Saturn to produce wind storms of 500 km/h. The research also showed that, despite the enormous activity of the storm, this was not able to substantially modify the prevailing winds which blow permanently in the same direction as Earth's parallels, but they did interact violently with them. An important part of the computer's calculations were made thanks to the Centre de Serveis Científics i Acadèmics de Catalunya (CESCA), and the computer services at the Institut de Ciències de l'Espai (ICE), also based in the Catalan capital of Barcelona.

Apart from the curiosity of knowing the physical processes underlying the formation of these giant storms on Saturn, the study of these phenomena enable us to enhance our knowledge of the models employed in research into meteorology and the behaviour of Earth's atmosphere, in a very different environment and impossible to simulate in a laboratory. "The storms on Saturn are, in a way, a test bank of the physical mechanisms underlying the generation of similar meteorological phenomena on Earth," commented Agustín Sánchez Lavega, Director of the Planetary Sciences Group at the UPV/EHU.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Basque Research. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. García-Melendo, R. Hueso, A. Sánchez-Lavega, J. Legarreta, T. del Río-Gaztelurrutia, S. Pérez-Hoyos, J. F. Sanz-Requena. Atmospheric dynamics of Saturn’s 2010 giant storm. Nature Geoscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1860

Cite This Page:

Basque Research. "Mystery of the gigantic storm on Saturn." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130624075753.htm>.
Basque Research. (2013, June 24). Mystery of the gigantic storm on Saturn. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130624075753.htm
Basque Research. "Mystery of the gigantic storm on Saturn." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130624075753.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) — A bump in the rings could be a half-mile-wide miniature moon. It was found by accident in Cassini probe images. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) — A total lunar eclipse, the first since December 2011, took place early Tuesday morning with the Americas getting the best glimpse. Duration: 1:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

AP (Apr. 15, 2014) — Star gazers in parts of North and South America got a rare treat early Tuesday morning - a total eclipse of the moon. (April 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) — New research says the urea from urine could be recycled for fuel. Urea is filtered out of wastewater when making drinking water. Video provided by Newsy
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:
from the past week

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