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
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
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."
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