Backlit Saturn - Seen from the Cassini Spacecraft

The Cassini spacecraft was sent by NASA and ESA to study Saturn and its moons. Two of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus and Tethys, appear in the bottom right of this image. So far, the spacecraft has found new storm systems on Saturn, active geysers on its moon Enceladus, liquid oceans on its moon Titan, and many other unexpected discoveries. Due to its elliptical orbit, Cassini is occasionally able to catch beautyful images of saturn backlit by our sun, as seen above. 


hex: Saturn’s north pole, photographed by Cassini, 3rd April 2014.

The hexagon is an atmospheric vortex, the shape apparently created by interaction of winds circling the pole at different speeds. Each side of the hexagon is about 13,800km long, wider than Earth.

10 images taken over about a quarter of a Saturnian day, which is about 10 hours and 40 minutes long.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI. Animation: AgeOfDestruction.

The Cassini spacecraft looks down on the north pole of Saturn. The scene is serene only from a distance–raging storms are clearly visible in the atmosphere. In this image you can even make out Saturn’s hexagonal storm. The hexagonal vortex is about 20,000 miles (30,000 km) across and is a jet stream made up of 200 mph winds (322 km/h) surrounding a huge storm, Scientists have not found another weather feature exactly like this anywhere in the solar system.

(Credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / processed by Bill Dunford) 


Storms in other worlds.

Earth is not the only world with storms in our Solar System, and in many cases, even our most destructive storms are pipsqueaks compared to our neighboring worlds.
Venus, with its runaway greenhouse effect has clouds of CO2 and likely lots of lightning.
Mars is known for its dust storms, some are so huge that they will pose threats to future astronauts on Mars. Pictured is a simple dust devil.
The Jovian Giants are full of storms. Jupiter’s big red spot is perhaps the most famous, but the other gas giants are no stranger to epic storms that last many years.
Titan has a dense atmopshere and has an abundance of methane. There are storm systems that rain liquid methane. This means there are vast seas and rivers of methane too.


Cassini recently celebrated a decade in orbit around Saturn. We have learned more about the complex ring structure and many moons of the ringed gas giant than ever expected. 

Keep up the great work Cassini! Be on the lookout for more detailed information on these photos as well as the individual moons. 


Saturnian Storm 

Ready for more stunning images courtesy of Cassini? I don’t know about you, but I never tire of looking at images of our Universe. In this image you can see a massive storm raging in Saturn’s northern hemisphere. This true-color image shows the storm encircling the ringed giant. 

Taken on February 25, 2011, approximately 12 weeks after the onset of the storm, the storm wrapped around the planet and the clouds formed a tail. You can see the tail in the image (appears blue in color) and is located southwest of the storm’s head.

This is the most massive, and intense storm ever observed on Saturn, either by Cassini or Voyager. The storm is still active and as scientists tracked the storm, they discovered it spans an area 500 times the area of any of the large hexagonal storms observed in Saturn’s southern hemisphere. 

Saturn’s massive ring system casts shadows which have strong seasonal effects and could potentially switch on these massive storms. The storm seen in this image could be related to seasonal changes in the northern hemisphere after the equinox of August 2009. 


Image & Source Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Churning atmosphere on Saturn

Like a swirl from a paintbrush being dipped in water, this image from the Cassini orbiter shows the progress of a massive storm on Saturn. The storm first developed in December 2010, and this mosaic captures how it appeared on 6 March 2011.

The head of the storm is towards the left of the image, where the most turbulent activity is shown in white, but towards the centre you can also see the trace of a spinning vortex in the wake of the storm.

This image, centred at about 0º longitude and 35º N latitude, has had its colours enhanced to help reveal the complex processes in Saturn’s weather. The white corresponds to the highest cloud tops, but to the human eye the storm would appear more as a bright area against a yellow background.

Cassini also monitored the temperature of the storm, showing a rapid spike as energy was released into the atmosphere.

The storm grew so large that on Earth it would easily cover all of Europe. Atmospheric disturbances of this size can be expected once during each of Saturn’s orbits around the Sun, which takes 30 Earth years. However, this particular event surprised scientists by occurring during the northern hemisphere spring, rather than the more typically stormy Saturnian summer.

Image credit & copyright NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University