Saturn Shows Off A Massive Spinning Vortex: 'The Rose' | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Saturn Shows Off A Massive Spinning Vortex: 'The Rose'

NASA is calling it "The Rose." By any other name, it's a mammoth storm on Saturn's north pole. Its eye spans an estimated 1,250 miles — 20 times the size of an average hurricane's eye on Earth. Winds in the Saturn storm's eye wall are believed to be four times as fast.

The stunning image of the spinning vortex was given "false colors" to emphasize low clouds (in red) versus high clouds (in green). NASA estimates that the clouds at the outer edge are moving at up to 330 miles per hour.

"The hurricane swirls inside a large, mysterious, six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon," NASA says. The space agency's analysts say the storm has likely been swirling in the same spot for years — because it's on a pole, there's nowhere for it to drift.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured the image, one of the first to offer a high-resolution detailed view of Saturn's north pole. Having passed through its equinox in 2009, the pole is now in sunlight.

Because it takes Saturn about 30 years to orbit the sun, its equinox comes "roughly every 15 Earth years," according to NASA. The last sunlit images of Saturn's north pole were taken back in 1981, by Voyager 2, the agency says. But its view wasn't as good as Cassini's.

"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," says Cassini deputy project scientist Scott Edgington, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

NASA says it can change Cassini's orbit every few years — but as you might imagine, it's not as easy as flicking a finger to tilt a hat to a jaunty angle.

"Because the spacecraft uses flybys of Saturn's moon Titan to change the angle of its orbit," the agency says, "the inclined trajectories require attentive oversight from navigators."

Back in the summer of 2004, Cassini became the first spacecraft to enter Saturn's orbit, as NPR's Richard Harris reported. To get there, Cassini traveled 2.2 billion miles.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

A Puzzle Full Of Air

Every answer today is a word starting with the letters A-R, which you will identify from its anagram. For example, given AR plus ROB, the answer would be "arbor."
NPR

Will Environmentalists Fall For Faux Fish Made From Plants?

A handful of chefs and food companies are experimenting with fish-like alternatives to seafood. But the market is still a few steps behind plant-based products for meat and dairy.
NPR

Republicans Gather To Galvanize, Share Ideas At 'Freedom Summit'

On Saturday, prominent Republicans from across the country headed to Iowa for the annual Freedom Summit, which supports "pro-growth economics, social conservatism and a strong national defense."
NPR

3 Voices, 1 Threat: Personal Stories Of Cyberhacking

In President Obama's State of the Union address, he gave fresh emphasis to a problem that has been in the headlines: cybersecurity. In For The Record: three personal stories of security breaches.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.