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Saturn Hurricane: New NASA Images Show Vortex Of 300mph Winds, Texas-sized Clouds [VIDEO]

Apr 29, 2013 02:22 PM EDT
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The Cassini space probe in orbit around Saturn has captured its first close images of a massive storm on the planet's north pole.

The probe has measured clouds the size of Texas and brutal 300 mph winds, with the energy at the eye of the storm being four times hurricane force on Earth.

Scientists are calling the storm system a Saturn hurricane because it has an eye and high speed winds much like hurricanes we know on Earth, but the storm system is locked at the planet's north pole and there is no ocean underneath it, which has the scientists puzzled as to how the storm is sustaining itself on such negligible water vapor.

"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 in Pasadena. "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."

Learning how these Saturnian storms use water vapor could tell scientists more about how terrestrial hurricanes are generated and sustained, according to NASA, which released a press statment regarding the news Monday.

Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn for nine years. Researchers have been aware of the storm for some time, but views of it have been obscured because it was winter on Saturn. Now that it is spring, a clearer picture of what the system looks like has emerged.

At 1,250 miles wide, the storm's eye is about 20 times larger than an average Earth hurricane and has been churning for years, NASA reports. The hurricane swirls inside a mysterious, six-sided Saturnian weather pattern known as the hexagon, which is the size of two Earths.

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