Hurricane season has begun on Earth, but Earth isn’t the only world with hurricanes. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft provided scientists with this image a year ago. It was the first close-up, visible-light views of a behemoth hurricane swirling around Saturn’s north pole. The hurricane’s eye is about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide, 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. Thin, bright clouds at the outer edge of the hurricane are traveling 330 mph(150 meters per second). The hurricane swirls inside a large, mysterious, six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon.
Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said:
We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth. But there it is at Saturn, on a much larger scale, and it is somehow getting by on the small amounts of water vapor in Saturn’s hydrogen atmosphere.
Scientists will be studying the hurricane to gain insight into hurricanes on Earth, which feed off warm ocean water. Although there is no body of water close to these clouds high in Saturn’s atmosphere, learning how these Saturnian storms use water vapor could tell scientists more about how terrestrial hurricanes are generated and sustained.