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Record-setting gas storm on Saturn

October 26, 2012 12:26 IST

A NASA satellite has captured rare, record-setting 'burp' on the surface of Saturn in the aftermath of a massive storm, the US space agency said.

Temperatures in Saturn's stratosphere soared more than 65.5 degree Celsius above normal in the aftermath of a storm, according to data captured by NASA's Cassini satellite, which orbits the ringed planet.

The ethylene gas -- which NASA calls a "burp" -- generated by the storm was 100 times more than scientists thought the planet was capable of making.

"The temperature spike is so extreme it's almost unbelievable, especially in this part of Saturn's atmosphere, which is typically very stable," Brigette Hesman, a University of Maryland scientist who works at NASA, said in a statement.

"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," Hesman said.

Data revealed shows record-setting disturbances in the planet's upper atmosphere long after the visible signs of the storm abated.

Researchers at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Centre in Greenbelt, detected a huge increase in the amount of ethylene gas, the origin of which is a mystery.

Ethylene, an odourless, colourless gas, isn't typically observed on Saturn. On Earth, it is created by natural and man-made sources.

First detected by Cassini in Saturn's northern hemisphere on December 5, 2010, the storm grew so large that an equivalent storm on Earth would blanket most of North America.

This type of giant disturbance on Saturn typically occurs every 30 Earth years, or once every Saturn year, NASA said.

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.

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.

The study findings appear next month in the Astrophysical Journal.

 

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