You think Sandy’s bad? Saturn had a storm that was bigger than Earth
Are you worried about the Terrifying Megastorm, as we are now apparently calling it? Well, just think how much cat food, toilet paper, batteries, and beer you’d have to lay in if you were going to weather Saturn’s “Great White Spot.” This storm was as tall as North America and long enough to wrap several times around the Earth, and it raised the temperature in one part of the atmosphere by more than 150 degrees F.
The Great White Spot is an annual storm on Saturn, but this particular one — the biggest yet seen on the planet — started in December 2010 as an unobtrusive-looking smudge. It quickly expanded to a band of storm activity stretching all the way around the massive gas planet, and thanks to the Cassini satellite, researchers were able to observe it in hitherto unprecedented ways. Most importantly, they could look at it in the infrared, which is how they noticed two “beacons” of very increased temperature. Eventually, these two hotspots merged into a large area with an 80-Kelvin temperature jump, more than 150 degrees F. That’s the largest temperature increase Saturn’s ever seen.
According to planetary research scientist Brigette Hesman,
[t]his temperature spike is so extreme it’s almost unbelievable, especially in this part of Saturn’s atmosphere, which typically is very stable. 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.
The storm also produced a huge increase in ethylene, a flammable hydrocarbon gas that had never been detected on Saturn before. Ethylene concentrations during the storm were 100 times higher than scientists had previously thought possible on the planet, and it’s still not clear what that was about.
It’s funny that the storm on Saturn caused warming, while the opposite is happening here on Earth. It’s also very funny that NASA’s article about the temperature increase is headlined “NASA Spacecraft Sees Huge Burp at Saturn After Large Storm.” Maybe Saturn should have bought slightly more batteries, slightly less beer.