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Tue May 03 02:54:03 CAT 2016

Cassini gets first close-up view of Saturn Hurricane

Times LIVE | 30 April, 2013 13:58
The spinning vortex of Saturn's north polar storm resembles a deep red rose of giant proportions surrounded by green foliage in this false-color image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Measurements have sized the eye at a staggering 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) across with cloud speeds as fast as 330 miles per hour (150 meters per second).
Image by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Nasa's Cassini spacecraft has given scientists their first close-up view of the gigantic hurricane spinning around Saturn's north pole.

According to Nasa, the hurricane's eye is about 2 000 kilometres wide, with the clouds on the hurricane's outer edge travelling at 150 meters per second in a hexagonal pattern.

"We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth," said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "But there it is at Saturn, on a much larger scale, and it is somehow getting by on the small amounts of water vapour in Saturn's hydrogen atmosphere."

Scientists believe that the massive hurricane on Saturn has been churning for years, though when Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 the north pole was dark because the planet was in the middle of its northern winter.

While the spacecraft's composite infrared spectrometer and visual and infrared mapping spectrometer detected a great vortex, getting a visible light view of it had to wait until August of 2009. Cassini then had to change the angle of its orbit so it could see the poles.

Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said; "You cannot see the polar regions very well from an equatorial orbit. Observing the planet from different vantage points reveals more about the cloud layers that cover the entirety of the planet."

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