Bright White Storm Raging on Saturn

by Nancy Atkinson on December 16, 2010

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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”

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Hon. Salacious B. Crumb December 16, 2010 at 9:38 AM

Will Hay (1888-1949), like the on he found a similar spot in August 1933, will be smiling up there in Heaven!
Using a 6-inch. (15cm) Cook refractor he describes;

“I was surprised to see a large bright area in the Equatorial region of the planet and just left of the central meridian. I rang up Dr Steavenson who observed the planet thro’ his 20 1/2″ reflector and confirmed the existence of the bright area. I observed the spot from 1933 Aug 3 22 H.35 M until it reached the limb of the planet at 1933 Aug 4th, 00 H.10 M.00. The large bright area seemed to be followed by the other bright areas tho’ not so conspicuous or well defined as the principal one.”

Sound the same description 77 years ago as this 2010 one!

White spot outbreaks have been regularly observed over the years, and especially the most conspicuous ones in; 1878, 1933, 1963.2, 1992.6.; and i periods spanning roughly fifteen or thirty years. (Saturn’s period is about. 29.46 years.)

[Maybe this one is not as good as the Hubble white spot image taken back in 1994, but it is not bad.]

Dark Gnat December 16, 2010 at 7:07 PM

Might be a seasonal thing.

PhelanKA7 December 17, 2010 at 11:51 AM

Can Cassini take a look at it?

HelloBozos December 27, 2010 at 1:24 PM

I shot Saturn Dec 21st after the Lunar Eclipse,The dragon storms very visiable,I used T1i-14mm eyepiece projection-8SE-CGEM ,7am Est Dec 21sy 2010

http://www.celestronimages.com/details.php?image_id=8839&mode=search

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