Space

October 26, 2012

NASA spacecraft sees huge burp at Saturn after large storm

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has tracked the aftermath of a rare massive storm on Saturn. Data reveal record-setting disturbances in the planet’s upper atmosphere long after the visible signs of the storm abated, in addition to an indication the storm was more forceful than scientists previously thought.

Data from Cassini’s composite infrared spectrometer instrument revealed the storm’s powerful discharge sent the temperature in Saturn’s stratosphere soaring 150 degrees Fahrenheit (83 kelvins) above normal. At the same time, researchers at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., detected a huge increase in the amount of ethylene gas, the origin of which is a mystery. Ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas, isn’t typically observed on Saturn. On Earth, it is created by natural and man-made sources.

Goddard scientists describe the unprecedented belch of energy in a paper to be published in the Nov. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

“This temperature spike is so extreme it’s almost unbelievable, especially in this part of Saturn’s atmosphere, which typically is very stable,” said Brigette Hesman, the study’s lead author and a University of Maryland scientist who works at Goddard. “To get a temperature change of the same scale on Earth, you’d be going from the depths of winter in Fairbanks, Alaska, to the height of summer in the Mojave Desert.”

First detected by Cassini in Saturn’s northern hemisphere on Dec. 5, 2010, the storm grew so large that an equivalent storm on Earth would blanket most of North America from north to south and wrap around our planet many times. This type of giant disturbance on Saturn typically occurs every 30 Earth years, or once every Saturn year.

Not only was this the first storm of its kind to be studied by a spacecraft in orbit around the planet, but it was the first to be observed at thermal infrared wavelengths. Infrared data from CIRS allowed scientists to take the temperature of Saturn’s atmosphere and to track phenomena that are invisible to the naked eye.

Temperature measurements by CIRS, first published in May 2011, revealed two unusual beacons of warmer-than-normal air shining brightly in the stratosphere. These indicated a massive release of energy into the atmosphere. After the visible signs of the storm started to fade, CIRS data revealed the two beacons had merged. The temperature of this combined air mass shot up to more than minus 64 degrees Fahrenheit (above 220 kelvins).

According to Hesman, the huge spike of ethylene generated at the same time peaked with 100 times more ethylene than scientists thought possible for Saturn. Goddard scientists confirmed the release of the gas using the Celeste spectrometer mounted on the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona.

The team still is exploring the origin of the ethylene, but has ruled out a large reservoir deep in the atmosphere. “We’ve really never been able to see ethylene on Saturn before, so this was a complete surprise,” said Goddard’s Michael Flasar, the CIRS team lead.

A complementary paper led by Cassini team associate Leigh Fletcher of Oxford University, England, describes how the two stratospheric beacons merged to become the largest and hottest stratospheric vortex ever detected in our solar system. Initially, it was larger than Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

Their paper in the journal Icarus, which combines CIRS data with additional infrared images from other Earth-based telescopes, including NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, also reports a powerful collar of clockwise winds – encompassing a bizarre soup of gases – around the vortex.

“These studies will give us new insight into some of the photochemical processes at work in the stratospheres of Saturn, other giants in our solar system, and beyond,” said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. The mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Hesman’s work was funded in part by NASA’s Planetary Astronomy Program in Washington. The CIRS instrument and Celeste spectrometer were built at Goddard.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines July 28, 2014

News: U.S. has lost track of weapons given to Afghanistan - The United States supplied almost three quarter of a million weapons to Afghanistan’s army and police since 2004, but the military cannot track where many of those arms have gone, a new report found. Bill to improve VA has $17 billion price tag - A bipartisan...
 
 

News Briefs July 28, 2014

Marines seek authorization for dolphin deaths The Marine Corps is asking for a five-year authorization from the National Marine Fisheries Service for incidental deaths of bottlenose dolphins during training exercises at a bombing and target range. The Sun Journal of New Bern, N.C., reports that Connie Barclay of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says...
 
 
Army photograph by David Vergun

Senior leaders explain Army’s drawdown plan

Army photograph by David Vergun No commander is happy when notified that a soldier from his or her command has been identified for early separation. But commanders personally notify those Soldiers and ensure participation in th...
 

 

Northrop Grumman awarded mission support services contract

The U.S. Army awarded Northrop Grumman a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract, with a potential value of $205 million, to continue providing mission logistics services in support of combat brigades training at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif. The contract covers one base year and two one-year options. Support will include the full range of mission...
 
 
Lockheed Martin photograph by Beth Groom

F-35 Rollout Marks U.S.-Australia Partnership Milestone

Lockheed Martin photograph by Beth Groom Royal Australian Air Force Air Marshal Geoff Brown delivers his remarks at the roll out ceremony for Australia’s first F-35. The official rollout of the first two F-35 Lightning II...
 
 
NASA/JPL-Caltech image

NASA’s Mars spacecraft maneuvers to prepare for close comet flyby

NASA/JPL-Caltech image This graphic depicts the orbit of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring as it swings around the sun in 2014. On Oct. 19, the comet will have a very close pass at Mars. Its nucleus will miss Mars by about 82,000 m...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>