String of Pearls in Saturn’s Atmosphere

by Fraser Cain on October 13, 2006

This Cassini photograph shows a strange line of white dots in a line across the atmosphere in Saturn’s northern latitudes. The image was made using Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, and the line of dots are clearings in Saturn’s cloud system. There are more than two dozen of these clearings, spaced apart by about 3.5 degrees in longitude. Scientists think they might be caused by a large cloud formation or wave that encircles the whole planet.

Saturn appears dressed to the nines, “wearing” a strand of “pearls” in a stunning infrared image from the Cassini spacecraft that showcases a meteorological phenomenon.

The image, acquired by Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, shows Saturn lit by its own internal, thermal glow. Clearly visible is a 60,000-kilometer-long (37,000 miles) string of bright “pearls,” which are actually clearings in Saturn’s deep cloud system.

The image is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini , http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov , and http://wwwvims.lpl.arizona.edu .

The findings are being presented today at the Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting of the American Astronomical Society held in Pasadena, Calif.

More than two dozen cloud clearings appear at Saturn’s north latitude. Each clearing follows another at a regular spacing of about 3.5 degrees in longitude. This is the first time such a regular and extensive train of cloud clearings has been observed, indicating that they may be a result of a large planetary cloud formation or wave that might encircle the whole planet.

Scientists plan to continue observing this phenomenon over the next few years to try to learn more about Saturn’s deep circulation systems and meteorology.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team is based at the University of Arizona.

Original Source: NASA/JPL/SSI News Release

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Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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