20 January 2011

The Winds of Saturn are Blowing

Posted by Ryan Anderson

I always find it amazing how I can be completely unaware of something, and then all of a sudden I hear about it from multiple sources in the span of five minutes. I hadn’t really been paying attention to the weather on Saturn, so when I saw on Facebook that Stuart Atkinson had posted some new colorized views from Cassini, I didn’t think much of it. He’s always posting beautifully colorized spacecraft images. But then yesterday, I opened up my web browser and the Astronomy Picture of the day was this:

Wow! That’s a big storm! And it’s even more dramatic to see a storm like this on Saturn, which is usually pretty uniform in color. This thing is really stirring up the atmosphere. I’m not a planetary atmospheres person, but I would guess this storm is brighter than the rest of Saturn because it is lifting the clouds much higher, above the haze that normally hides the roiling eddies lower in the atmosphere. The dark bands across the image are shadows of the rings, which are visible as a thin line across the center of the planet.

You can’t beat Cassini for pretty pictures of Saturn, but when I saw this amazing ground-based sequence on the astronomy LiveJournal community, it really caught my eye:

Observations and animation by Brian Combs

It’s amazing what “amateurs” can do these days. You still have to have a pretty good telescope and great seeing to capture pictures like the ones above, but this storm is big enough that it should be visible even in a modest telescope! This just goes to show you that the solar system is a really dynamic place, and that it’s worth going outside and looking up.