Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

THUNDER & LIGHTNING! Thunderstorm on Saturn Releases a Septillion Joules of Energy

07.07.2011
The largest and most intense storm of the last 20 years was recently discovered on the planet Saturn. Initial measurement data on this thunderstorm is published today as the cover story of the journal NATURE.

This is a further highlight for an Austrian Science Fund FWF project which has been running for two years. The project focuses on analysing data from NASA´s space probe Cassini - however, for the latest storm a global network of amateur astronomers was also called up for duty. It was thus possible to calculate that the storm has so far released a septillion joules of energy. Furthermore, the measurements provide support for a hypothesis which predicts that Saturn´s storms have a seasonal dependence.


Not a fine day on Saturn: a gigantic storm is developing in the northern hemisphere. © NASA/JPL/SSI

Other planets have freak weather, too. Saturn´s quirks are being investigated by the Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. A current project of the Austrian Science Fund FWF is concentrating on measuring Saturn´s atmospheric electricity. When the project began in August 2009, the plan was actually to analyse an older thunderstorm in more detail. But then came December 5, 2010.

LIGHTNING ACTION
On that day, an instrument to measure radio and plasma waves aboard NASA´s probe Cassini detected the first lightning flashes of a storm which was forming in Saturn´s northern hemisphere. What nobody knew then was that this storm would later turn out to be the largest storm which Cassini had ever measured on Saturn, because the first photos by Cassini´s Imaging Science Subsystem initially showed a small, bright cloud. Even these photographs had been taken by chance, as the head of the FWF project and lead author of the current Nature publication, Dr. Georg Fischer, explains: "It is not possible to point this camera as the mood takes you. It was pure chance that it happened to be pointing in the right direction at the right time. Since it would take a while to analyse the photos, I immediately sent out an appeal to the global network of amateur astronomers. I asked them to please keep an eye on the thundercloud. A real lightning action, so to speak."

The rapid reaction was worth the effort, making it possible to follow the dramatic development of the storm which Dr. Fischer explains as follows: "Three weeks after its discovery, the storm already extended over more than 10,000 kilometres. Two months later it encircled the whole planet. And now, seven months after the discovery, it covers an area of four billion square kilometres. That´s eight times the surface area of the Earth."

FAST AS LIGHTNING
A crucial part of Dr. Fischer´s project is the measurement of lightning activity with the aid of the radio waves emitted. These radio waves, called Saturn Electrostatic Discharges (SEDs), usually occur as short, individual emissions. Not so in this case. The sequence of individual flashes is so rapid that almost continuous radio emission is measured. There are up to ten flashes per second. Taken together with this lightning activity, the storm achieved a total energy of a septillion - 10 to the power of 24 - joules in the first three months of its existence. This corresponds to the total annual solar energy reaching the Earth.

For Dr. Fischer the dimensions of the storm are just as impressive as the timing and the localisation of the storm: "Cassini has been observing Saturn since 2004, and during this time, thunderstorms have only been observed in the southern hemisphere. A Saturn year lasts 29.5 Earth years, and August 2009 saw the start of Saturn´s spring. I had put forward the hypothesis that this would mean that the thunderstorms would change to the northern hemisphere. The fact that it only took such a short time to gain support for this hypothesis has surprised me. This is a successful conclusion to our current FWF project."

Scientific contact:
Dr. Georg Fischer
Space Research Institute
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Schmiedlstraße 6
8042 Graz, Austria
T +43 / 316 / 4120 - 664
M +43 / 699 / 12068 - 896
E georg.fischer@oeaw.ac.at
Austrian Science Fund FWF:
Mag. Stefan Bernhardt
Haus der Forschung
Sensengasse 1
1090 Vienna, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 67 40 - 8111
E stefan.bernhardt@fwf.ac.at
W www.fwf.ac.at
Copy Editing and Distribution:
PR&D - Public Relations
for Research & Education
Mariannengasse 8
1090 Vienna, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 70 44
E contact@prd.at
W http://www.prd.at

Dr. Katharina Schnell | PR&D
Further information:
http://www.fwf.ac.at/en/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Tracing aromatic molecules in the early universe
23.03.2017 | University of California - Riverside

nachricht New study maps space dust in 3-D
23.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Inactivate vaccines faster and more effectively using electron beams

23.03.2017 | Life Sciences

New study maps space dust in 3-D

23.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Tracing aromatic molecules in the early universe

23.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>