NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Witnesses Big Saturn Storm

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has returned up-close details of a Saturn storm that is eight times the surface area of Earth.

The 13-year-old space probe first detected the ongoing storm last December. Pictures from Cassini’s imaging cameras show the storm wrapping around the entire planet, covering approximately 4 billion square kilometers. NASA says the storm is about 500 times larger than the storm Cassini witnessed between late 2009 and early 2010.

Data Cassini obtained between first spotting the storm Dec. 5 and the end of February showed lightning flashes occurring as frequently as 10 per second, a rate 10 times greater than during the nine previous storms Cassini has observed since reaching Saturn in 2004.

“Cassini shows us that Saturn is bipolar,” Cassini imaging team member Andrew Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a statement. “Saturn is not like Earth and Jupiter, where storms are fairly frequent. Weather on Saturn appears to hum along placidly for years and then erupt violently. I’m excited we saw weather so spectacular on our watch.”