Chris McKitterick (mckitterick) wrote,
Chris McKitterick

Astro-Porn of the Day: WOW Saturn storm! Also: Jupiter is at its best.

Holy Superstorm, Batman! Check out what's churning at Saturn's north pole:

Click the image to see the Cassini page.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft took this image yesterday from about 360,000 kilometers away. The new photo shows what's going on inside this hexagon-shaped cloud structure that stretches 25,000 kilometers across Saturn's North Pole:

Click the image to see the Cassini page.

Because Saturn's North Pole has emerged from its 15-year-long winter, when sunlight does not fall on the pole, Cassini can now study this vast storm - about the size of Earth - at the hexagon's core. Astronomers think these storms form in the same way as hurricanes, with warm, moist air rising from lower cloud layers. The storms might be permanent, or could come and go with the seasons.

Cassini previously observed Saturn's south pole before in 2006, where a storm two-thirds as wide as Earth was raging. That vortex was the first place in the solar system other than Earth where astronomers saw eye-wall clouds, a typical feature of hurricanes, where a bank of clouds towers above the central pit.

In other astro-news, have you been watching Jupiter and the Moon dancing on the Eastern horizon after sunset? Two days ago, they were within a Moon's-width apart, the two brightest nighttime objects in the sky! If you have a telescope, now's the time to check out the giant planet, which is giving us its best views of the year over the next few days. If you want to watch the Great Red Spot transit across Jupiter's stormy bands, check out this handy tool by Sky & Telescope. This is what it looked like when Voyager 1 zipped past about 10 million kilometers from the planet in 1979:

Click the image to see the NASA page.

Tags: astronomy

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