Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has been around for longer, but Saturn’s periodic storms are far larger.
On Earth, hurricanes can span hundreds of kilometers, wreaking devastation whenever landfall occurs.
But on the Solar System’s giant planets, storms can far surpass anything seen throughout Earth’s history.
Atop Saturn’s north pole lies a hurricane centered inside a hexagonal-shaped vortex.
The hurricane’s winds reach 320 miles-per-hour (500 kph), spanning 2,000 km across.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, known for nearly four centuries, could fit between 2-to-3 Earths inside of it, with winds exceeding 267 miles-per-hour (430 kph).
But from December of 2010 to August of 2011, the largest storm of all occurred: on Saturn.
For 200+ days, this Saturnian hurricane raged, maintaining its leading “head” until May.
It came to encircle the entire planet, as methane-poor tail end stands out against the relatively methane-rich remainder.
Viewed 11 hours (1 Saturn-day) apart, we determined the hurricane migrated across Saturn at 60 miles-per-hour (100 kph).
These storms have occurred every 20–30 years since first observed in 1876, as hot air rises, cools and falls.
2011’s was the largest of all, large enough to contain ten-to-twelve Earths, but may be surpassed next time: in the 2030s.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.