It’s a billion miles from earth, the second largest planet, and it can dip to negative 300 degrees Fahrenheit. We’re talking about Saturn. Until now, little was known about what happens on this mysterious planet. But a space mission and a special camera are allowing scientists to see Saturn like never before.
What do you know about Saturn? While Saturn is known for its rings, here’s something you probably don’t know: this planet has cyclones!
“Saturn is not really the nice, placid, lovely place that you see looking from the earth,” Kevin Baines, Ph.D., a planetary scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Ivanhoe.
Hurricanes are a type of cyclone on earth, but to find out about another planet’s weather, planetary scientist Kevin Baines and a large team of researchers looked at data from the Cassini Spacecraft. It’s been orbiting Saturn for five years and has captured one-of-a-kind images and videos.
“We’re seeing Saturn in a whole new light, literally, because we’re using wavelengths of light that have never been looked at before,” Dr. Baines said.
Saturn’s north pole has been in winter for almost 15 years and is dark, so scientists haven’t been able to see it until now. A special infrared camera on the spacecraft, called Vims, can see more wavelengths of light than the human eye can see, allowing researchers to map the clouds on the planet’s north pole in 352 different colors. They found something they had never seen before, a large cyclone storm!
“It’s actually like flushing a toilet, so when you flush a toilet, the outside part of the water moves slowly and as you go into the core of the water, it’s moving fast,” Dr. Baines said.
In fact, the center of the cyclone has winds that are up to 280 miles per hour. Unlike hurricanes on earth, this cyclone has no body of water to fuel it.
“We’re finding that it’s a very active place, an active world with violent storms in it, that no one knew before,” Dr. Baines said.
New images that have changed the way scientists see Saturn. 250 scientists from 17 different countries are involved in the Cassini Mission, which will continue until 2017. At that time, researchers will do what they call a “kamikaze” run to get rid of the spacecraft, letting it dive right into Saturn. Doctor Baines says they will be able to obtain unique movies and pictures as the cameras on the spacecraft dip between the ring and the planet for the first time.