The ‘red rose’ of Saturn: stunning new colour images of giant hurricane

Cassini image, in false colour, showing the massive "red rose" hurricane at Saturn's north pole. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
Cassini image, in false colour, showing the massive “red rose” hurricane at Saturn’s north pole.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute

Hurricanes are an incredible force of nature, and these huge rotating vortexes of wind are an amazing sight when viewed from space. But Earth is not the only planet that has hurricanes, and there is one on Saturn that dwarfs any on our own planet. Now, the Cassini spacecraft has taken more breath-taking colour images of this colossal wind storm.

The eye of the hurricane spans about 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) across, twenty times larger than the average size of a hurricane eye on Earth.

This hurricane sits right on top of Saturn’s north pole, in the centre of an even larger atmospheric anomaly known as the hexagon, a giant, six-sided cloud structure which also surrounds the north pole.

The hurricane has also been referred to as the “red rose” of Saturn, since when seen in false colour images, is reminiscent of a red rose surrounded by green leaves (other clouds seen as green in the images).

Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology, sums up the astonishment felt when the new images came in: “We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth. 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.”

As he notes, exactly how this Saturnian hurricane formed is still a mystery, as there is no ocean beneath it as on Earth, only water vapour in the atmosphere. Yet it is massive, much larger then hurricanes here, and the wind speeds are also faster, measured at up to 150 metres per second (330 miles per hour).

Beautiful when seen from above, but definitely not a storm you would want to actually be in!

Additional colour images and video can be seen here.

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