NASA’s Cassini space telescope has captured raw images of a humongous cyclone swirling above Saturn’s north pole, according to Discovery News. This cyclone was spotted by Cassini on November 27, 2012. Cassini’s camera was aimed at Saturn at about 248,578 miles away and the images was snapped using the P0 and CB2 filters.
Discovery News notes that Saturn has some of the highest wind speeds in the solar system (more than 1,100 miles an hour). The news source says that constantly shifting winds lead to cyclones at the planet’s higher latitudes.
However, astronomers believe that Saturn’s winds may be changing.
“The clouds at the equator no longer come around at the same rate,” says Dr. Andrew Ingersoll, a member of the Cassini imaging team and professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology. “It is possible that Saturn will lose its place as the windiest planet in the solar system.”
Saturn also has powerful lightning storms (10,000 times stronger than on Earth). These storms take place in big, deep thunderstorm columns that are almost as large as the entire Earth. Occasionally these storms are spotted, as they break through to Saturn’s visible cloud tops.
Cassini has given scientists an unprecedented view of cyclones such as this and other features of the giant planet.
“When you look at Saturn through any telescope, all you can see is Saturn’s day side and the sunlit part of its rings,” says Dr. Linda Spilker, deputy project scientist for the Cassini-Huygens mission. “With the Cassini spacecraft we can see the whole planet, including the night side. We can see the rings. We can get close enough to see things like tiny storms that even the powerful telescopes can’t see. We can collect data and make measurements that can only be done by actually going to Saturn.”
According to californiasciencecenter.org, the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. Cassini is the first spacecraft ever to circle Saturn due to a complex maneuver that gave it the ability to slip through the planet’s rings and become captured by the planet’s gravity.
The target of the Cassini mission are Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus as well as some of the planet’s other icy moons. Towards the end of its mission, the spacecraft will also take a closer look at Saturn and its rings.
Click here to see the “Ten Best Pictures from NASA’s Cassini probe.”