Saturn is the second largest planet in our solar system and is ten times bigger than the Earth. New research has revealed it has the widest, most intense jet stream out of all the planets in the solar system with wind speeds zooming at over 1000mph.
Last year, the Planetary Sciences Group at the University of the Basque Country, Spain, were studying Saturn’s atmosphere through a telescope when they discovered a white spot on the planet’s equator. It was a remarkable find as the spot was moving at speeds that had not been observed since the 1980’s. Further research using a larger telescope and images from observers in other countries enabled them to confirm the astonishing speeds that they first witnessed. Following this, the team were then granted access to use the one of the largest space telescopes, the Hubble, providing an opportunity to study the phenomena in even greater detail.
The white spot was in fact a storm 4,000 miles wide, and by studying this and the movement of the clouds, they could determine new information about the structure of Saturn’s equatorial jet-stream. The researchers established that in Saturn’s upper atmosphere wind speeds reach almost 700mph, and at altitudes exceeding 100 miles the winds travel at an impressive 1,025mph.
Another significant meteorological process within Saturn’s atmosphere that affects the winds is the Semi-annual Oscillation (SAO); a phenomena that occurs at the top of the stratosphere (30 miles above the surface), and causes temperatures to fluctuate, resulting in changing in wind speed and direction from East to West.
By studying the weather of other planets, the team’s research will go towards improving the understanding and modelling of atmospheric processes on our own planet. Their findings were published this week (8th Nov 2016) in the scientific journal ‘Nature Communications' (DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS13262).