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Saturn's Perfect Storms

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by Astrobiology Magazine
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Oct 11, 2004
Saturn is the windiest planet in the solar system, which is one mystery of the ringed giant. On Saturn the superstorms can produce thousand mph winds.

Saturn storms brew in both the northern and southern hemispheres but take on their highest winds at the equator.

The hurricanes on Saturn can begin with cloud masses nearly the size of the entire Earth. As the storms grow, it is not unusual for a single storm to grow to engulf the equivalent of thirty Earths.

Storms at Saturn's equator move eastward at speeds up to 450 meters per second (1000 mph), which is about 10 times the speed of the Earth's jet streams and approximately three times greater than the equatorial winds on Jupiter.

This image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow angle camera on Sept. 10, 2004, at a distance of 8.8 million kilometers (5.5 million miles) from Saturn, through a filter sensitive to wavelengths of infrared light centered at 750 nanometers.

The image scale is 52 kilometers (32 miles) per pixel. The image has been contrast enhanced to improve visibility of features in the atmosphere.

When Earth storms hit land they begin to dissipate, but on Saturn a storm can circumnavigate the entire planet.

During the thirty-year Saturnian summers, heated gases rise on the sunward facing hemisphere. These warmer layers eventually become unstable at higher altitudes and ammonia rich clouds eventually produce ice-crystals.

Cassini's big adventure with Saturn's moon begins in earnest at the beginning of 2005, when the Huygens probe begins to descend to the surface of the largest moon Titan.

European and American scientists hope to use Huygens to get a close-up view of what might provide analogies to what a very primordial Earth might have looked like, if it never progressed beyond an ice age.

Just as Saturn seems like a miniature of our larger solar system, so too may its moons give a glimpse of what might have cooked up closer to the Sun than Saturn.

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Saturn's Lanes Of Air Are Vast And Chaotic
Pasadena CA (SPX) Oct 06, 2004
This Cassini image shows mesmerizing detail in the swirls and ribbons of air in Saturn's atmosphere. The view was obtained at a distance of 8.5 million kilometers (5.3 million miles) from Saturn and is but a taste of what the spacecraft's powerful cameras will show when Cassini draws nearer to the planet. The limb of the planet is visible at lower right.



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