Bright White Storm Raging on Saturn

by Nancy Atkinson on December 16, 2010

A white storm in Saturn's northern hemisphere, as seen on Dec. 14, 2010. Credit: Anthony Wesley

About a week ago, a bright white storm emerged on Saturn’s northern hemisphere, and amateur astronomer/planet astrophotographer extraordinaire Anthony Wesley from Australia has captured a few images of it. “This is the brightest Saturn storm in decades,” Anthony said on his website, Ice In Space. “If you get a chance to see it visually then take it, as it may be one of the rare “Great White Spot” (GWS) outbreaks on Saturn.”

Great White Spots, or Great White Ovals occur periodically on Saturn, and are usually large enough to be visible by telescope from Earth by their characteristic white appearance. The spots can be several thousands of kilometers wide.

Anthony joked that the outburst on Saturn might happening because the planet getting a little jealous that Jupiter has been getting lately with the reappearance of the Southern Equatorial Belt.

See a few more images from Anthony below.

Another view of the white storm on Saturn. Image courtesy of Anthony Wesley, used by permission.

This infrared view shows a hint of structure in the outline of the storm. “There seems to be an extension developing to the southeast,” Anthony pointed out. Rhea is also visible in the image.

A CH4 image of Saturn taken by Anthony Wesley, where the storm does not show up. Credit: Anthony Wesley, used by permission.

In the above image, the storm doesn’t show up. “Interestingly the CH4 (methane) image doesn’t show the storm at all,” Anthony said. “I’m not sure if this is simply because CH4 is not useful on Saturn (maybe these storms are too low in the atmosphere to get any return?)”

Thanks to Anthony Wesley for sharing his images with Universe Today. See more of his images at Ice in Space, and his other gallery site, “Birds Astronomy Site”


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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