Saturn Hurricane: See Massive Vortex More Than 20 Times Larger Than Any Storm On Earth [VIDEO]

By Staff Reporter on April 30, 2013 11:38 AM EDT

Saturn Hurricane
NASA Cassini probe captures a false-color image of the Saturn hurricane located at the planet's north pole. (Photo: Space.com)

NASA scientists shared stunning images and footage of a massive hurricane on the planet Saturn. Captured by the NASA Cassini probe, the Saturn hurricane is wreaking havoc over the planet's north pole.

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

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Just like hurricanes of Earth, the Saturn hurricane also features a central eye that contains no cloud while the storm's eye wall forms high clouds. In fact, the Saturn hurricane features a similar counterclockwise spin in the northern hemisphere of the planet as well.

The image of the Saturn hurricane is a sinister red in color and massive in scale. Scientists have determined the storm's eye is as much as 1,250 miles wide, an astounding 20 times larger than the average eye of a hurricane on Earth. In addition, footage from the Cassini probe indicates that the edges of the Saturn storm are also significantly more powerful than any hurricane on Earth. Staggering winds sustain speeds of approximately 330 mph.

There's more to the Saturn hurricane than just its size and power. Unlike hurricanes on Earth, which tend to travel northbound as our planet rotates, the Saturn hurricane has remained somewhat stationary at the north pole. What's more, scientists point out that the Saturn hurricane swirls feature an odd six-sided vortex.

According to NASA, the Saturn hurricane does not have an ocean underneath and sustains its strength thanks to atmospheric water vapor instead. Scientists hope to study the properties of the Saturn hurricane in order to gain further insight on the hurricanes on Earth.

The Saturn hurricane demonstrates remarkable longevity as the Cassini probe detected the storm shortly after it entered the ring planet's orbit in 2004. However, the winter season in northern Saturn shrouded the hurricane in darkness at the time. The Cassini probe patiently waited until August 2009 for spring to arrive in northern Saturn.

"Such a stunning and mesmerizing view of the hurricane-like storm at the north pole is only possible because Cassini is on a sportier course, with orbits tilted to loop the spacecraft above and below Saturn's equatorial plane," explained Cassini deputy project scientist Scott Edgington of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

"You cannot see the polar regions very well from an equatorial orbit," said Scott Edgington. "Observing the planet from different vantage points reveals more about the cloud layers that cover the entirety of the planet."

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