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 A chip for environmental and health monitoring
15.12.2017 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

nachricht New type of smart windows use liquid to switch from clear to reflective
14.12.2017 | The Optical Society

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: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New technique could make captured carbon more valuable

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

A chip for environmental and health monitoring

15.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>