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article imageMassive Saturn storm reveals water in planet's atmosphere

By Michael Thomas     Sep 5, 2013 in Science
Saturn may be defying science's classification of the planet as a gas giant. A storm in 2010 and 2011 revealed for the first time that water exists on Saturn.
The massive storm, which was 15,000 kilometres wide, 300,000 kilometres long and with winds reaching 500 kilometres per hour, overturned Saturn's northern atmosphere. In fact, the storm was so big that amateur astronomers could see it from Earth. These types of storms happen once every 30 years, which is how long it takes Saturn to orbit the sun.
This time around, unlike previously, NASA's Cassini satellite was there to record data on the storm's effects. Arguably its biggest discovery was that Saturn actually has water in its atmosphere.
The storm allowed scientists a rare look into Saturn's atmosphere, and using spectral analysis (which helped NASA determine the colour of a far-off planet) they discovered water ice. The ice was initially water vapour blown into the atmosphere and then frozen.
"We think this huge thunderstorm is driving these cloud particles upward, sort of like a volcano bringing up material from the depths and making it visible from outside the atmosphere," said Lawrence Sromovsky of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led this study, which will be published in the September 9 edition of the journal Icarus.
Until now, NASA hasn't been able to glimpse Saturn's atmospheric makeup because of a gaseous haze, of unknown chemical makeup, that obscures the view.
Universe Today explains that Saturn is made up of mostly hydrogen and helium, with frozen ammonia making up the uppermost layer of the atmosphere.
More about Saturn, Cassini, saturn storm, NASA
 
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