How many YEARS do storms last on Saturn?

Credit image: NASA
Credit image: NASA

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 12 August 2023, at 10:06 am PDT

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New scientific research reveals that while Saturn may lack the vibrant hues of its counterpart Jupiter, it boasts enduring superstorms that delve into the heart of its atmosphere, leaving their marks for ages.

Astrophysicists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, recently investigated Saturn's core through radio emissions. They discovered persistent undulations in the veil of ammonia gas, revealing enduring disturbances.

They reveal that cyclonic colossi, similar to terrestrial hurricanes, perform their overture every 20 to 30 years upon Saturn's realm. Despite their resplendence, the origins of these storms remain a mystery, as the composition of Saturn's atmospheric tapestry induces an enigma. The blend of hydrogen and helium, enriched with methane, water, and ammonia, leaves us with a perplexing maestro.

"Understanding the mechanisms of the largest storms in the solar system puts the theory of hurricanes into a broader cosmic context, challenging our current knowledge and pushing the boundaries of terrestrial meteorology," said Cheng Li, a former 51 Peg b Fellow at UC Berkeley who is now an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and the lead author of the research.

Imke de Pater, a UC Berkeley professor emerita of astronomy and of earth and planetary sciences, has been studying gas giants for over four decades to understand their composition better and what makes them unique, employing the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico to probe the radio emissions from deep inside the planet.

The collaboration between de Pater, Li, and UC Berkeley graduate scholar Chris Moeckel uncovered an unexpected pattern in Saturn's radio emissions. This pattern revealed a hidden story about the concentration of ammonia in the planet's atmosphere and its connection to the mega-storms in the northern hemisphere. The team found that ammonia is less abundant in the middle of Saturn's atmosphere, near the top of its ammonia-ice shroud. However, it is more plentiful in the deeper regions, descending 100 to 200 kilometers toward the planet's core.

Although Jupiter and Saturn share the same hydrogen gas composition, their atmospheric arrangements differ. Jupiter's tropospheric cadence is woven within its bands and belts. At the same time, Saturn's storms orchestrate anomalies that challenge our understanding of mega-storm genesis. These neighboring behemoths offer a clarion call for astronomers to reevaluate their understanding of mega-storm formation as they explore distant exoplanets.

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