The images depict a hurricane in Saturn's north pole region. The eye of the storm is around 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) in diameter. The clouds on the hurricane's outer edge are travelling at 150 meters per second (330 miles per hour).
"We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth," said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology. "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."
NASA has stated that the storm on Saturn is "locked onto" the planet's north pole. Cassini was unable to image Saturn's northern hemisphere using visible light until 2009, when the planet's equinox passed. Researchers hope that studying the hurricane on Saturn can provide data on how hurricanes on Earth develop and sustain themselves.
"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," said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "You cannot see the polar regions very well from an equatorial orbit. Observing the planet from different vantage points reveals more about the cloud layers that cover the entirety of the planet."
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)