Perpetual Storms

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Astronomers have known that Jupiter’s massive storm known as the “Great Red Spot” has been running on the gas giant for hundreds of years.

Now, a new research paper found evidence that Saturn, another gas giant, also experiences similar long-lasting freak storms, Live Science reported.

These “megastorms” – also known as “Great White Spots” – occur every 20 or 30 years in the planet’s northern hemisphere and rage for months. Since 1876, astronomers have observed these planet-wide storms that span hundreds of thousands of miles, according to Newsweek.

Meanwhile, the most recent one occurred in December 2010, and NASA’s Cassini spacecraft had a close view of the storm for its entire 200-day life span.

These storms last much longer than Earth’s due to the longer duration of the planet’s orbit around the Sun: Saturn takes around 29 Earth years to complete a single lap around the Sun due to its distance – it is 10 times further away. As a result, its seasons each last around 7 years.

In their study, a research team analyzed Saturn following its most recent storm and found that its effect is still seen on Saturn to this day even though it lasted less than a year.

Using a special telescope to study the planet’s radio signals, researchers found signs of all six previously recorded megastorms over the past 130 years, as well as a potentially new storm never recorded before.

These signals appeared as strange ammonia gas spots in the planet’s atmosphere. Some areas had less gas than usual, while others had more, suggesting that megastorms move ammonia gas from high up in the atmosphere to lower levels – a process that could last for centuries after the storm ends.

Although there are many mysteries regarding the inner workings and behavior of these storms, studying them gives scientists insights into how gas giants form. It also helps understand why these storms become so gigantic, similar to the “spots” seen on Saturn or Jupiter.

“Understanding the mechanisms of the largest storms in the solar system puts the theory of hurricanes into a broader cosmic context, challenging our current knowledge and pushing the boundaries of terrestrial meteorology,” said lead author Cheng Li.

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