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Spectacular new images from a NASA spacecraft orbiting Saturn have captured the most detailed views ever of an enormous hurricane churning around the ringed planet's north pole.
The stunning new images and video of the Saturn hurricane, which were taken by NASA's Cassini probe, show that the storm's eye is 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide — about 20 times bigger than typical hurricane eyes on Earth. And the Saturn maelstrom is more powerful than its Earth counterparts, with winds at its outer edge whipping around at 330 mph (530 km/h).
"We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth," Cassini imaging team member Andrew Ingersoll, of Caltech in Pasadena, said in a statement. "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."
Saturn's hurricane swirls inside a mysterious, six-sided vortex. Unlike hurricanes on Earth, which tend to drift northward as our planet rotates, the Saturn storm and its hexagonal vortex have been camped out at the north pole for a while. "The polar hurricane has nowhere else to go, and that's likely why it's stuck at the pole," Kunio Sayanagi, a Cassini imaging team associate at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., said in a statement.
I don't want to go there. Years, many years ago I read a story (from Heinlein or Clarke) about some brave cyborg-man sailing in a vessel inside Jupiter's athmosphere - the sheer dimensions of "looking at some clouds below, realising that they were in fact many kilometers down" are breathtaking.
The images were taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2012, using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light. The images filtered at 890 nanometers are projected as blue. The images filtered at 728 nanometers are projected as green, and images filtered at 752 nanometers are projected as red. In this scheme, red indicates low clouds and green indicates high ones.