Archive for the ‘Saturn’ Category

Cassini Spacecraft Captures Images and Sounds of Big Saturn Storm

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Source – NASA/JPL Cassini :

PASADENA, Calif. – Scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft now have the first-ever, up-close details of a Saturn storm that is eight times the surface area of Earth.

On Dec. 5, 2010, Cassini first detected the storm that has been raging ever since. It appears at approximately 35 degrees north latitude on Saturn. Pictures from Cassini’s imaging cameras show the storm wrapping around the entire planet covering approximately 1.5 billion square miles (4 billion square kilometers).

The storm is about 500 times larger than the biggest storm previously seen by Cassini during several months from 2009 to 2010. Scientists studied the sounds of the new storm’s lightning strikes and analyzed images taken between December 2010 and February 2011. Data from Cassini’s radio and plasma wave science instrument showed the lightning flash rate as much as 10 times more frequent than during other storms monitored since Cassini’s arrival to Saturn in 2004. The data appear in a paper published this week in the journal Nature.

“Cassini shows us that Saturn is bipolar,” said Andrew Ingersoll, an author of the study and a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. “Saturn is not like Earth and Jupiter, where storms are fairly frequent. Weather on Saturn appears to hum along placidly for years and then erupt violently. I’m excited we saw weather so spectacular on our watch.”

At its most intense, the storm generated more than 10 lightning flashes per second. Even with millisecond resolution, the spacecraft’s radio and plasma wave instrument had difficulty separating individual signals during the most intense period. Scientists created a sound file from data obtained on March 15 at a slightly lower intensity period.

Cassini has detected 10 lightning storms on Saturn since the spacecraft entered the planet’s orbit and its southern hemisphere was experiencing summer, with full solar illumination not shadowed by the rings. Those storms rolled through an area in the southern hemisphere dubbed “Storm Alley.” But the sun’s illumination on the hemispheres flipped around August 2009, when the northern hemisphere began experiencing spring.

“This storm is thrilling because it shows how shifting seasons and solar illumination can dramatically stir up the weather on Saturn,” said Georg Fischer, the paper’s lead author and a radio and plasma wave science team member at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Graz. “We have been observing storms on Saturn for almost seven years, so tracking a storm so different from the others has put us at the edge of our seats.”

The storm’s results are the first activities of a new “Saturn Storm Watch” campaign. During this effort, Cassini looks at likely storm locations on Saturn in between its scheduled observations. On the same day that the radio and plasma wave instrument detected the first lightning, Cassini’s cameras happened to be pointed at the right location as part of the campaign and captured an image of a small, bright cloud. Because analysis on that image was not completed immediately, Fischer sent out a notice to the worldwide amateur astronomy community to collect more images. A flood of amateur images helped scientists track the storm as it grew rapidly, wrapping around the planet by late January 2011.

The new details about this storm complement atmospheric disturbances described recently by scientists using Cassini’s composite infrared spectrometer and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope. The storm is the biggest observed by spacecraft orbiting or flying by Saturn. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured images in 1990 of an equally large storm.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena manages the mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The radio and plasma wave science team is based at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, where the instrument was built. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

For images and an audio file of the storm, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov .

Jia-Rui Cook 818-354-0850
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
jccook@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne C. Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

2011-203

NASA / JPL What’s Up for April

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Use the big dipper to find Saturn this month.

Surprise Hidden in Titan’s Smog: Cirrus-Like Clouds

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Source – JPL/NASA: Surprise Hidden in Titan’s Smog: Cirrus-Like Clouds

Every day is a bad-air day on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Blanketed by haze far worse than any smog belched out in Los Angeles, Beijing or even Sherlock Holmes’ London, the moon looks like a dirty orange ball. Described once as crude oil without the sulfur, the haze is made of tiny droplets of hydrocarbons with other, more noxious chemicals mixed in. Gunk.

Icky as it may sound, Titan is really the rarest of gems: the only moon in our solar system with an atmosphere worthy of a planet. This atmosphere comes complete with lightning, drizzle and occasionally a big, summer-downpour style of cloud made of methane or ethane-hydrocarbons that are best known for their role in natural gas.

Now, thin, wispy clouds of ice particles, similar to Earth’s cirrus clouds, are being reported by Carrie Anderson and Robert Samuelson at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The findings, published this week in the journal Icarus, were made using the composite infrared spectrometer on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

Unlike Titan’s brownish haze, the ice clouds have the pearly white appearance of freshly fallen snow. Their existence is the latest clue to the workings of Titan’s intriguing atmosphere and its one-way “cycle” that delivers hydrocarbons and other organic compounds to the ground as precipitation. Those compounds don’t evaporate to replenish the atmosphere, but somehow the supply has not run out yet.

“This is the first time we have been able to get details about these clouds,” says Samuelson, an emeritus scientist at Goddard and the co-author of the paper. “Previously, we had a lot of information about the gases in Titan’s atmosphere but not much about the [high-altitude] clouds.”

Compared to the puffy methane and ethane clouds found before in a lower part of the atmosphere by both ground-based observers and in images taken by Cassini’s imaging science subsystem and visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, these clouds are much thinner and located higher in the atmosphere. “They are very tenuous and very easy to miss,” says Anderson, the paper’s lead author. “The only earlier hints that they existed were faint glimpses that NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft caught as it flew by Titan in 1980.”

The full story is online at:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/whycassini/titan-clouds.html .

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The CIRS team is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where the instrument was built.

Written by Elizabeth Zubritsky/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Media contact: Jia-Rui Cook/Priscilla Vega
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-0850/354-1357
jccook@jpl.nasa.gov / Priscilla.r.vega@jpl.nasa.gov

GIANT STORM ON SATURN: Got a telescope for Christmas?

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Source – Space Weather News for Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010: http://spaceweather.com

Got a telescope for Christmas? Point it at Saturn. A giant storm even brighter than Saturn’s rings is raging through the planet’s cloudtops. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” says veteran planetary photographer Anthony Wesley. “It’s possible that this is the biggest storm on Saturn in many decades.” Here it is recorded by Wesley’s 16-inch telescope on Dec. 22nd:

Instruments on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft are picking up strong bursts of radio static. Apparently, lightning is being generated in multiple cells across the storm front. Cassini’s cameras are also beaming back fantastic images of the tempest.

“At it’s current size and brightness, the storm should be visible to anyone with a mid-size scope under steady seeing,” continues Wesley. “This is a great time to be a planetary photographer.”