Saturn Burps

These red, orange and green clouds (false color) in Saturn’s northern hemisphere indicate the tail end of the massive 2010-2011 storm. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

This is an especially gassy week in the solar system: today NASA released a report about the Cassini mission titled “NASA Spacecraft Sees Huge Burp at Saturn After Large Storm”:

Data from Cassini’s composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS) 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 Space Flight 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.

Cows are not to blame this time. Plants naturally produce ethylene. It can be used to hasten the ripening of fruit. And a great deal of ethylene is manufactured — it is one of the most commonly used organic compounds.

5 thoughts on “Saturn Burps

  1. There was a huge northern hemisphere storm on Saturn, at about this latitude, last year. I think it was dubbed the Dragon’s Tail. I didn’t hear anything about elevated temperatures or fart-like gasses that time, but since storms are apt to be accompanied by an up-welling of material from lower levels of the Saturnian atmosphere, I would guess that higher temperatures were recorded. 150 degrees, though, suggests gasses from a considerable distance below the cloud deck, where it is probably pitch-dark and quite warm.

  2. The one from last year did last months and months, and for all I know is still visible in diminished form if you know where to look. One of these days we’ll know what it is about gas giants that seems to create these massive cyclones — and use the knowledge to improve the way we clean drains, no doubt.

  3. “Cows are not to blame this time.”

    Oh, sure. You’ll be singing a different tune when the Giant Space Cows invade in their methane-powered spaceships. It’ll be like CLOVERFIELD crossed with the Running Of The Bulls.

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