Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

An electrical storm on Saturn

May 6, 2008

Have you checked the weather today?  Oh, but have you checked the weather on Saturn today?  Neither did I.  But it seems, according to yesterday’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, courtesy of NASA, that there is an electrical storm on Saturn that has lasted at least 3 months.

Saturn. Early March, 2008.

Extraterrestrial storms are not uncommon.  And it isn’t uncommon for these storms to last a long time.  According to the post, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, featured as the picture of the day on July 18, 1999 (which was a picture from Voyager 1 taken circa 1979), has been studied for at least 150 years and has been observed from Earth for over 300!

Another point of interest, about the electrical storm on Saturn, is that the “… storm has roughly the width of planet Earth.”.  I’m interested to see how long this storm lasts.  Aren’t you?

“That’s no moon.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope.   But wait, yes it is.  If you look closely at the image of Saturn’s electrical storm, which has been color shifted to better allow us humans to see some of the spectrum that we couldn’t otherwise, you will see Saturn’s rings.  Just below the rings you will see a faint “dot”, which to the untrained (read: mine) eye, appears to bit a fleck of dust on the lens.  This is Saturn’s small moon Janus.

Side note: We had an excellent view of Saturn when we attended Public Night at the Astronomical Observatory. But it wasn’t anywhere near as good as this shot and we certainly didn’t see the electrical storm.

Source: NASA: Astronomy Picture of the Day: A Persistent Electrical Storm on Saturn.

But wait, there’s a lot more…

After writing this morning, I’ve since read another article on about Cassini tracking the “raging storm” on Saturn.  There are quite a few tidbits of interest.

  1. “The new storm is located in Saturn’s southern hemisphere–in a region nicknamed “Storm Alley” by mission scientists–where the previous lightning storms were observed by Cassini.”
  2. “Amateur astronomers have kept track of the storm over its five-month lifetime. “Since Cassini’s camera cannot track the storm every day, the amateur data are invaluable,” said Fischer. “I am in continuous contact with astronomers from around the world.””
  3. “Cassini’s radio plasma wave instrument detects the storm every time it rotates into view, which happens every 10 hours and 40 minutes, the approximate length of a Saturn day. Every few seconds the storm gives off a radio pulse lasting for about a tenth of a second, which is typical of lightning bolts and other electrical discharges. These radio waves are detected even when the storm is over the horizon as viewed from Cassini, a result of the bending of radio waves by the planet’s atmosphere. “

The radio waves they are referring to are actually recorded by Cassini.  You can listen to, and look at the statistical data for, that audio here.  The audio is only 28 seconds long but represents two hours of audio on Saturn.