Thanks to the Hubble telescope, NASA specialists were able to see how the unstable atmosphere of Saturn changes with the change of seasons.
Hubble revealed the seasonal changes on Saturn
Scientists reviewed a series of images of Saturn taken by the Hubble Telescope in 2018, 2019, and 2020. During this period of time, changes were especially pronounced at the equator and poles of the planet, provoked by the transition of its northern hemisphere from summer to autumn.
During the observation period, the equator of Saturn became brighter by 5-10%, and the wind speed on the planet changed. As noted by astronomers, in 2018 the wind speed in the vicinity of the planet’s equator reached 1600 km / h, which exceeds the measurements carried out in the framework of the Cassini mission in 2004-2009.
Then the speed of the equatorial wind of Saturn was approximately equal to 1300 km / h. At the same time, in 2019 and 2020, the wind speed decreased again.
In addition, seasonal changes on Saturn affect not only the speed of the winds but also their height. Based on the data obtained by the Hubble telescope, scientists have established that in 2018, Saturn’s clouds were 60 km denser than during the Cassini mission.
Scientists noted that many more observations and calculations will be required to better understand the atmospheric changes of the second-largest planet in the solar system. However, the fact that some of the processes can already be traced using the Hubble telescope is a huge advantage for astronomers studying the gas giant.
The study authors also noted that many of the planets found around other stars are gas giants. Astronomers are keen to better understand their atmospheres, and the closest objects of this kind (Jupiter and Saturn) provide a lot of information for thought.
What do we know about the Seasons of Saturn?
Much of what we know about the seasons of Saturn is based on the 13 years of observations carried by NASA’s Cassini mission.
The device saw several changes in the seasons of the planet – from winter to summer in the northern hemisphere (the Saturnian year lasts almost 30 Earth years). Despite the fact that the giant is ten times farther from the Sun than the Earth, changes in illumination still lead to significant changes in the atmosphere of the gas giant.
For example, a giant hexagon, a regular hexagonal storm that rages at the North Pole, changed its color from blue to gold during the mission. Scientists attribute this to chemical transformations occurring in the atmosphere under the influence of the increasing amount of sunlight in connection with the onset of summer, something that was also noted in the new study of Saturn’s seasons.
Another phenomenon on the gas giant is associated with the seasons – the formation of “spokes” in the rings of Saturn. These are oblong wedge-shaped objects rotating with the rings but located at a certain height above them. “Spokes” were discovered by Voyagers, but thanks to “Cassini” it became clear that this is, most likely, a periodic phenomenon that is observed at the end of the Saturnian winter.
A year after the Saturnian equinox, with the arrival of spring in the giant’s northern hemisphere, the researchers discovered a huge storm in the Cassini images. Its area was eight times the surface area of the Earth. According to the readings of the instruments, up to ten lightning strikes per second flashed in the storm.
This past week has been groundbreaking for planetary scientists as experts also reported a massive discovery about the stratospheric winds on Jupiter, based on data of the ALMA observatory. It turned out that at the equator, the speed of the wind is 600 kilometers per hour, and in the polar regions of the planet it reaches 1450 kilometers per hour.
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• O’Neill, M. (2021, March 21). Stunning Hubble IMAGES capture changing seasons in SATURN’S vast and turbulent atmosphere.
• Phys.org. (2021, March 18). Hubble sees changing seasons on Saturn.
• Steigerwald, B. (2021, March 05). Hubble sees changing seasons on Saturn.