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Saturn’s Stunning, Swirling Cyclone

Saturn’s north polar cyclone (NASA/JPL/SSI)

Oh man. It’s stuff like this that got me into space blogging in the first place.

Landing here on Earth last night, this is one of several new raw images from Cassini acquired yesterday (Nov. 27) showing the enormous cyclone of clouds swirling around Saturn’s geographic north pole. The angle of sunlight highlights the multilayered structure of the cyclone and surrounding cloud bands wonderfully… this is a roiling feature approximately 3-4,000 km across and in places appears to carve cloud channels hundreds of kilometers into Saturn’s atmosphere. Simply. Beautiful.

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten such a good look at Saturn’s north pole… over four years ago, I’d say, and in fact one of my very first blog posts here on LITD was of the hexagonal feature ringing Saturn’s northern hemisphere. Thanks to Cassini’s new orbital trajectory, which is taking it high over the ring plane and poles of Saturn, we have the opportunity to view the gas giant’s upper latitudes again.

In fact we even have a brand new look at the hexagon, which is still there, four years later:

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From the LITD Archives: Saturn’s Southern Storm

Originally posted on March 3, 2009:

South Pole Storms

Saturns South Pole Storm (south faces up in this image)

A great spiraling whirlpool of wind-whipped clouds wraps around Saturn’s southern pole, photographed here in polarized infrared light by Cassini on July 15, 2008. Towering white clouds mark areas of rising heat from deep within the atmosphere. The winds around the vortex have been measured at over 300 mph.

This photo shows an area over 3,000 miles (4828 km) wide.

Using special filters the cloud structures and wind patterns of Saturn become visible, showing the incredible ferocity of its atmosphere. In visible wavelenghts Saturn appears rather calm and smooth but viewed in another light its true nature is seen:

Thanks to the special camera filters aboard the Cassini orbiter Saturn’s cloud layers can be pierced for further study…there’s still so much to be learned about the ringed planet!

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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