New data sent by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft show that minor thunderstorms within Saturn’s atmosphere could trigger the planet’s violent cyclones which sweep its poles.
NASA scientists were able to introduce Cassini’s data into a computer model that helped them better understand the origin of the mysterious vortexes, a mystery that had remain unsolved for decades.
Researchers claim that the new data can also help them remotely study large-scale atmospheric phenomena on exo-planets, as well.
Cassini’s imagery revealed that Saturn’s polar cyclones are linked to “hot spots,” while the north polar cyclone is surrounded by a mysterious hexagonal cloud that blankets the planet’s north pole. NASA scientists believe that the bizarre feature was generated by violent eddies that envelop the central cyclone.
So, currently the research team is looking for the driving forces for the hexagonal atmospheric feature and the cyclones.
On our planet, cyclones rely on the oceans’ moisture to form. But on Saturn, there aren’t large bodies of water, so there must be another mechanism that triggers the powerful atmospheric phenomena,
A computerized planetary model of Saturn revealed that the vast polar cyclones may be generated by a series of smaller thunderstorms in the planet’s restless atmosphere.
“Before it was observed, we never considered the possibility of a cyclone on a pole,”
admitted Morgan O’Neill, lead author of the findings and postdoc researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
Mr. O’Neill and his colleagues designed a simple model of the remote planet’s atmosphere, which had triggered a cohort of minor thunderstorms over the course of time. The model showed that those storms dragged atmospheric gases towards the poles where they created a spin in the atmosphere which resulted in the large polar cyclones we observe today.
Scientists also learned that Saturn’s violent polar cyclones depend on both the intensity and size of the small thunderstorms. The team concluded that the larger the storm compared to Saturn’s mass, the higher the chance of a long-lived swirling twister to occur at its poles.
As a follow-up, scientists applied the planetary model on two other gas giants in our solar system – Jupiter and Neptune. The model revealed that Jupiter which is the largest body in our solar system has slim chances of having storm-triggered polar cyclones, while Neptune most likely has short-lived polar cyclones.
But as for Jupiter, there is much speculation on its atmospheric conditions. Researchers are currently waiting for NASA’s Juno spacecraft to reach the gas giant’s orbit next year for more detailed information. Juno is set to study Jupiter’s magnetism and have a look at its poles.
Image Source: Dharmasanctuary