Friday, May 20, 2011

Giant Saturn Storm Revealed

Using a distant spacecraft and a giant telescope, astronomers have unmasked the full ire of a storm so big that it encircles Saturn, a planet nearly ten times bigger than Earth. Astronomers have been watching this northern-hemisphere storm since December 2010, when a bright plume of gas bubbled up to the surface of the gaseous sphere that makes up Saturn.

The disturbance has since expanded by riding easterly winds blowing at about 220 miles an hour. But until now very little has been known about the workings of the storm, its depth, and how it affects the ringed planet. Now a new study, released Thursday by the journal Science, says the Saturn storm is about 370 miles tall, according to observations made both by NASA's Cassini probe and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope array in Chile. By comparison, thunderstorms on Earth usually top out at a height of 12.5 miles—and none of them circle our entire planet, despite its comparatively small size.

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