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Here's some news that may make those of you dreading the upcoming hurricane season, feel a tad better - Even Saturn gets hit with them! Except in the case of the ringed-planet, they are much bigger, more powerful and last indefinitely.
The stunning pictures were recently captured by NASA's Cassini Spacecraft. Designed specially to explore Saturn, it has been orbiting the planet since 2004. But so far, while scientists were able detect a great vortex, they had been unable to determine what it was, because Saturn's North Pole had been in the midst of winter and therefore, completely shrouded in darkness. Since the planet takes about 29.45 years to orbit around the sun, they had to wait till 2009, for Spring to arrive.
But even the sunshine did not make it easy, thanks to the fact that Cassini's orbital angle was not focused on the area, and because the spacecraft depends on the flybys of Saturn's biggest moon Titan to propel, changing that, took a few years.
However, it was all worth the wait, because the images Cassini transmitted show a spectacular twister - One whose eye is about 1,250 miles wide or 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on earth and surrounded, by clouds that are bigger than the entire United Kingdom.
As for its winds? They are spinning at 330mph or about four times as fast as those on Earth. Also, unlike our twisters that tend to move and drift northward thanks to the pressure on the fast winds created as the earth rotates around its own axis, the one on Saturn seems to have been stuck in the area for many years, because it is as far north as it can go!
What is surprising scientists most about this monster, is the high winds especially given the fact that Saturn's hydrogen atmosphere contains very little water vapor. They are hoping that further research into the hurricane will help them isolate how much of a role water plays in powering the strong winds, and provide them some insight on our own twisters.
This kind of targeted study is otherwise impossible, given the various factors like changing ocean temperatures, jet streams and land masses that affect the twisters on earth. An added plus? The hurricane is going nowhere, giving them ample time to research, without anyone getting hurt!
Resource: NASA.gov, nationalgeo.com