DISCUSSION: Everyday, Earth experiences storms, be it in the form of thunderstorms, hurricanes, or blizzards. It is known that other planets in the solar system experience storms, albeit slightly different from those that occur on Earth. We recently discussed Jupiter and one of its notable atmospheric features, The Great Red Spot. Now, we will take a look at the solar system’s second largest planet: Saturn, with a particular focus on the mystery found at Saturn’s North Pole.
Saturn, the sixth planet from the Sun, best known for its well-defined rings, is one of the most active planets in terms of net storm activity across the solar system. Just like Jupiter, Saturn has large storms orbiting around it, with measured wind speeds higher than those associated with the strongest storms on Earth. At its equator, Saturn has winds which sometimes exceed 1,000 miles per hour, the second highest observed winds on any planet in the solar system. An interesting feature of Saturn is a cloud pattern located at Saturn’s North Pole (which unlike the circular or oval-shaped storms typical on Earth), characterized by a hexagonal shape. Each side of the hexagon is 8,600 miles long (in comparison to Earth’s diameter of roughly 7,900 miles), it has a diameter of roughly 20,000 miles (the spatial area being large enough to fit two Earth-sized planets), and it has a period of roughly 10.5 hours.
The Hexagon was first discovered during the 1981/82 period by the Voyager space program, but it wasn’t studied very much because it wasn’t illuminated by the Sun until 2009. Prior to reanalyzing Saturn’s hexagon feature, Saturn’s hexagon was thought to be a long-lived storm with wind speeds over 200 miles per hour. However, scientists now believe that the hexagon has the characteristics similar to an Earth-like jet stream which propagates around Saturn’s North Pole. Scientists more recently discovered a cyclone towards the center of the hexagon along with an eye approximately 1,250 miles in diameter (i.e., more than 50 times the diameter of typical eye of a hurricane on Earth). Scientists are unsure as to how the hexagon was formed or how long the hexagon will persist, but this feature should certainly provide deeper insight into extraterrestrial cyclones.
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@Meteorologist Noah Hardy
Discussion: Earth experiences storms every day, whether it’s thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, or blizzards. But Earth isn’t alone in this regard, based on the fact that other planets in our solar system experience storms as well. In particular, Jupiter has arguably the most comprehensively planetary atmospheric circulation which has been referred to by scientists as “The Great Red Spot.” The Great Red Spot is probably the best example of an extra-terrestrial anticyclonic circulation, which rotates counterclockwise; similar to the atmospheric flow associated anticyclonic circulations in Earth’s Northern Hemisphere.
Just as its name suggests, The Great Red Spot is an enormous red-colored, oval-shaped circulation that tracks persistently across Jupiter. Just how large is this storm, you might ask? The answer, is large enough to contain between two and three Earth sized planets. Not only is this circulation’s incredibly large, it also moves incredibly fast, based on its consistent ability to speed around Jupiter every six days. Bearing in mind that one thousand Earth-sized planets could fit within Jupiter, making this circulation’s period of revolution that much more impressive. This is due to Jupiter’s rapid rotation: 22,000 Discussion mph compared to Earth’s 1,000 mph. In addition, the Great Red Spot is comprised of wind speeds of up to 400 mph, (twice as fast as the winds associated with the strongest hurricanes ever recorded on Earth).
Moreover this circulation is also incredibly long-lived, over 150 years old. This storm is so massive and so easily identified that its existence was documented before probes and satellites came into existence. Due to this it is believed that the Great Red Spot has existed and been observed for over 300 years; some theorize it may be a permanent feature of the planet, though this has yet to be confirmed. Regardless, the Great Red Spot doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon and should continue to be a great area of scientific research.
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@Meteorologist Noah Hardy