Text Size

Are There Hurricanes on Saturn?
11.09.06
+ Play now (running time 2:20)
(Music)

Narrator:
Are there hurricanes on Saturn? From JPL -- NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I'm Jane Platt. Join us on a warp-speed podcast journey to the south pole of Saturn -- one billion miles away --where three instruments on the Cassini spacecraft have spied something odd, yet oddly familiar.

Dr. Kevin Baines, Cassini Scientist:
It's a hurricane-like feature, it looks just like a hurricane on the Earth.

Narrator:
How much like a hurricane?

Baines:
In the sense that you have rings of clouds and you have a central eye that’s relatively clear of clouds, and the ring of clouds around it rises to great heights. So it’s a very strange phenomenon we didn’t expect to find, but there it is.

Narrator:
So, Dr. Kevin Baines of JPL, it looks like a duck, it walks like a duck….

Baines:
But we're not saying it is a hurricane because after all, hurricanes on the Earth are powered by water sources, hurricanes that hit the East Coast are powered by water in the Atlantic Ocean that’s warm.

Narrator:
And as far as they know….no water oceans on Saturn.

Baines
So we don't really think it's exactly a hurricane, but it’s a new kind of storm system that we haven't seen before in any of the planets out there, so this is a new phenomenon that we'd love to be able to figure out what's going on.

Narrator:
Baines is a scientist with Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, which helps unlock the mysteries of Saturn -- which is much different than the terra firma we call home.

Baines:
So remember Saturn is a big gas body, big fluid body of gases mostly. It’s a whole alien type of a, kind of material there.

Narrator:
Definitely a whopper storm. The eye nearly as big as Earth, winds gusting 350 miles per hour. So what does this have to do with us?

Baines:
Every time we figure out dynamics or storm systems and how they behave on any planet, it directly is relevant to the Earth.

Narrator:
Oh, and storms can tell us a whole lot about a planet.

Baines:
When you have storms, they tend to dredge up materials from deep down below and so if you want to see what's in the deep part of a planet, then you can look in a storm system and see tracers of the material deep down.

Narrator:
More info on this storm -- and other Cassini discoveries -- at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov . (warp sound) Thanks for riding along on this warp-speed podcast journey from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

(Music)

+ Play now (running time 2:20)