New images and animated movies from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft chronicle the birth and evolution of the colossal storm that ravaged the northern face of Saturn for nearly a year.
These new full-color mosaics and animations show the storm from its emergence as a tiny spot in a single image almost one year ago, on Dec. 5, 2010, through its subsequent growth into a storm so large it completely encircled the planet by late January 2011.
The monster tempest, which extended north-south approximately 9,000 miles (15,000 kilometers), is the largest seen on Saturn in the past two decades and is the largest by far ever observed on the planet from an interplanetary spacecraft. On the same day that Cassini’s high-resolution cameras captured the first images of the storm, Cassini’s radio and plasma wave instrument detected the storm’s electrical activity, revealing it to be a convective thunderstorm. The storm’s active convecting phase ended in late June, but the turbulent clouds it created linger in the atmosphere today.
The storm’s 200-day active period also makes it the longest-lasting planet-encircling storm ever seen on Saturn. The previous record holder was an outburst sighted in 1903, which lingered for 150 days. The large disturbance imaged 21 years ago by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and comparable in size to the current storm lasted for only 55 days.