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Starts With A Bang

What was the biggest storm in our Solar System’s history?

It’s bigger than anything on Earth. Hell, it’s bigger than Earth!

“More days to come / new places to go
I’ve got to leave / it’s time for a show
Here I am / Rock you like a hurricane!” –
The Scorpions

On Earth, hurricanes can span hundreds of miles, bringing devastation wherever they land.

2007′s hurricane Felix, with sustained winds of 165 miles per hour, as imaged from the ISS. Image credit: NASA.

But on our Solar System’s gas giants, storms can far surpass anything ever seen on Earth.

A false-color image highlighting Saturn’s hurricane over its north pole, inside the much larger hexagon-shaped feature. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI.

At Saturn’s north pole, inside the two-Earth-sized polar hexagon, a hurricane nearly 2000 kilometers wide rages, with wind speeds over 500 kilometers-per-hour (320 mph).

Jupiter’s great red spot (from Cassini, imaged in 2000) and Earth (imaged from Apollo 17 in 1972), shown together for size comparison. Image credit: NASA / Brian0918 at English Wikipedia.

On Jupiter, the great red spot, seen for over 350 years, could fit between 2-and-3 Earths inside of it, with winds exceeding 430 kph (267 mph).

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute, of the start of the 2010–2011 storm. Image acquired December 5, 2010; annotations by E. Siegel.

But from December of 2010 to August of 2011, the largest storm of all occurred on Saturn.

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute, of the great storm’s evolution over a period of 8 months.

For over 200 days, this Saturnian hurricane raged, maintaining its head until May.

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute, of Saturn (during its storm) in false-color. The lack of whitish/blue in the storm shows an absence of methane.

It came to encircle the entire planet, as methane-poor tail end (in blue, false color) stands out against the methane-rich (in red) remainder.

February 23/24, 2011, comparison images of the same storm on Saturn. Images were taken 11 hours (1 Saturn-day) apart, at a resolution of 64 miles-per-pixel. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute.

Viewed 11 hours (1 Saturn-day) apart, we determined the hurricane migrates across Saturn at 100 kph (60 mph).

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute.

These storms have occurred every 20–30 years since first seen in 1876, as hot air rises, cools and falls.

Image credit: ESO/Univ. of Oxford/T. Barry, of Saturn’s 2011 storm in visible and various infrared wavelengths.

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 the story of a single astronomical phenomenon or object primarily in visuals, with no more than 200 words of text.

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