Astronomers witnessed a strange new kind of weather system break out over the surface of Saturn, which brought a frenzy of larger-than-normal cyclones, including one that lasted an incredible 214 days.
The storms lashed Saturn’s north polar region last year, but research on the extraordinary event has only now been published in Nature Astronomy.
The big patches of bright clouds were spotted four times between March and October 2018. This system is peculiar in being much more significant in size and duration than the typical storm on Saturn, yet smaller than the known pattern of major storms that break out there periodically.
About once every year on Saturn (the equivalent of about 29 years here on Earth), a spate of swirling storms dubbed the ‘Great White Spots’ erupt during the north’s summer period. However, the 2018 storms don’t fit the pattern nor the intensity of these, and this new avenue of research could offer key insights into not just Saturn’s weather, but our own.
“This adds an important piece to the giant puzzle” surrounding Saturn’s atmosphere, Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker, who was not part of the study, told PBS’ Nova. “By learning more about [Saturn’s storms], we can maybe understand more of the weather on our own planet as well.”
Like this story? Share it with a friend!