The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released video Monday of a “behemoth hurricane” swirling near the planet Saturn’s north pole. According to NASA.gov, the images were captured by the Cassini spacecraft and show a storm that is much larger and which has winds that spin much faster that a hurricane on Earth.
The diameter of the storm’s eye spans a distance of about 1,250 miles (2,000 km), roughly the distance from Washington, DC to Dallas, Texas, estimated the Washington Post. Just the eye of the Saturn storm is 30 percent larger than all of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the Northeastern U.S. in late fall of 2012.
“We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth,” said Andrew Ingersoll, a member of Cassini’s imaging team. “But there it is at Saturn, on a much larger scale, and it is somehow getting by on the small amounts of water vapor in Saturn’s hydrogen atmosphere.”
Learning about how a storm such as this one can form in an environment with so little liquid water could teach scientists a great deal about how hurricanes form on Earth. Terrestrial hurricanes form and feed on ocean water, which is believed to be in extremely short supply on the sixth planet from the sun.
Winds in the storm’s outer edge are estimated to be moving at about 330 miles per hour, which is 150 meters per second. Like a terrestrial hurricane, the Saturn storm’s eye is largely clear of clouds and appears relatively calm compared to the rest of the storm.
The storm is apparently stuck at the pole and has been churning for years. It only recently became visible to the space probe when the Saturn ended its north polar winter and tilted on its axis so that the north pole is closer to the sun. Changes in Cassini’s orbital perspective also made the new view of the storm possible.
“You cannot see the polar regions very well from an equatorial orbit. Observing the planet from different vantage points reveals more about the cloud layers that cover the entirety of the planet,” said Scott Edgington, a Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Watch the video, embedded via NASA.gov, below: