homeaboutessential guidepicture of the daythunderblogsnewsmultimediapredictionsproductsget involvedcontact

picture of the day             archive             subject index          

"Storm Alley" in Saturn's southern latitudes. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.


Oct 16, 2008

Saturn's Raging Storms

Cassini has detected immense hurricanes surging through Saturn's atmosphere since it began observing the planet in February of 2004. What force energizes these tempests?

Recent images from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft have shown that the north pole of Saturn is similar to the south pole: both locations are home to spinning vortices on a colossal scale. In the South, say mission specialists, a persistent whirlpool of clouds demonstrates "upwelling" of heat from deep beneath the planet's frigid outer atmosphere.

A new image from Cassini reveals regions beneath the clear surface atmosphere, rising and condensing into puffy clouds similar to those in a hurricane on Earth. The "eye" of the southern vortex is said to indicate the colder surface gases are being drawn down into the warm interior, completing a heat transfer mechanism. Why the cyclonic rotation is confined to the south pole is not understood, since the hurricanes on Earth draw their power from warm water as they move across the ocean.

Andrew Ingersoll from Caltech said: "It’s like seeing into the eye of a hurricane. It’s surprising. Convection is an important part of the planet’s energy budget because the warm upwelling air carries heat from the interior. In a terrestrial hurricane, the convection occurs in the eyewall; the eye is a region of downwelling. Here convection seems to occur in the eye as well."

In the North a hexagonal formation outlining a central maelstrom remains unexplained. Despite wind speeds of 530 kilometers per hour inside the hexagon and 500 kilometers per hour outside, the hexagon does not appear to move except with the planet's rotation. The north polar hexagon was seen in perspective by both Voyager probes as they flew by the gas giant in November 1980 and then in August 1981, so it is a long-lived phenomenon. The imaging team continues to analyze data in hopes of finding a method by which convection can arrange and maintain a six-sided formation in a spinning cloud layer.

To this day NASA scientists have been unable to come up with an explanation for another one of Saturn's strange features, the ultraviolet auroral light seen at mid-latitudes in the atmosphere. The ultraviolet light is also accompanied by x-rays glowing from the ring plane and from regions within "Storm Alley" shown at the top of the page. Since it is electrons and positive ions that cause aurorae on Earth, and those are always at higher latitudes, Voyager analysts entered the observation into Saturn's "big book of puzzles," in hopes that future missions will be able to figure it out.

A particularly significant entry in that big book are the giant white spots that also appear in mid-latitudes on Saturn. Another is the so-called "dragon storm" that Electric Universe theorist Wal Thornhill associated with the white spots. The massive "thunderstorm," as the Cassini team describes it, has remained fixed in one location since 2004, creating winds in excess of 1700 kilometers per hour and continuous discharges of lightning 1000 times more powerful than anything on Earth.

Wal Thornhill wrote: "Like Jupiter's Great Red Spot, the dragon storm on Saturn seems to be a long-lived storm center that occasionally flares up. The clock-like regularity of the radio emissions from storms on Saturn is used to judge the great planet's actual rotation rate beneath the clouds. But this behavior is enigmatic. Why should an electrical storm attach itself to a particular spot on a planet's surface, particularly when that surface is thought to be liquid?"

These inexplicable hot storms on Saturn, the polar vortices with their (apparently) stable configurations, megalightning, ultraviolet light and x-rays from low latitudes, and winds blowing at a thousand kilometers per hour point to a single cause for all the effects. Add to those observations the “spokes” of the ring system, the plasma torus around Saturn, as well as Saturn’s radiation belt, and we are left with an electrically active planet that is part of a circuit connecting the Sun and its plasma sheath, the heliopause.

By Stephen Smith

Please visit our Forum

The Electric Sky and The Electric Universe available now!


Authors David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill introduce the reader to an age of planetary instability and earthshaking electrical events in ancient times. If their hypothesis is correct, it could not fail to alter many paths of scientific investigation.

More info

Professor of engineering Donald Scott systematically unravels the myths of the "Big Bang" cosmology, and he does so without resorting to black holes, dark matter, dark energy, neutron stars, magnetic "reconnection", or any other fictions needed to prop up a failed theory.

More info


In language designed for scientists and non-scientists alike, authors Wallace Thornhill and David Talbott show that even the greatest surprises of the space age are predictable patterns in an electric universe.

More info

  EXECUTIVE EDITORS: David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill
Steve Smith, Mel Acheson
  CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Michael Armstrong, Dwardu Cardona,
Ev Cochrane, C.J. Ransom, Don Scott, Rens van der Sluijs, Ian Tresman
  WEBMASTER: Brian Talbott

Copyright 2008:

home  •  thunderblogs  •   forum  •  picture of the day  •   resources  •  team  •  updates  •  contact us