LOS ANGELES (AP) — It began as a bright white dot in Saturn’s northern hemisphere. Within days, the dot grew larger and stormier.

Soon the tempest enveloped the ringed planet, triggering lightning flashes thousands of times more intense than on Earth.

The international Cassini spacecraft and ground telescopes have been tracking the turbulence since last December, visible from Earth as a type of storm known as a “Great White Spot.”

“It’s still going like crazy,” said Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

>> Listen: Cassini Spacecraft Records Saturn Lightning

Such planet-wide weather disturbances are rare on Saturn, where the atmosphere is typically hazy and calm. Since 1876, astronomers have observed only five other megastorms on Saturn.

“This is a one-of-a-kind storm,” said Andrew Ingersoll, a self-described planetary weatherman at the California Institute of Technology, who was part of the discovery team.

Scientists have long studied weather on other planets. One of the solar system’s most famous landmarks is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a hurricane-like storm that has been raging for centuries. Landers and rovers to Mars’ surface often carried weather stations, dodged dust storms and sought favorable places to park during the winter.

An instrument aboard Cassini, which is orbiting Saturn, first picked up radio outbursts on Dec. 5, 2010 from a lightning storm. Around the same time, amateur astronomers peering through telescopes saw a bright point in Saturn’s northern half. Further observations confirmed it was a brewing storm.

The storm system, which occurred during the start of Saturn spring, grew in size and intensity, eventually stretching around the planet. Scientists don’t exactly know what stirs up the storms, but they think it could be linked to the change of seasons.

At the height of the storm, Cassini detected 10 lightning strikes per second. Scientists said the electrical activity emitted by the bursts were 10,000 times stronger than lightning on Earth.

The findings were described in two papers published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

The new work represents “some of the most detailed observations so far of such a dramatic event,” Peter Read of the University of Oxford wrote in an accompanying editorial.

Saturn’s violent weather differs from Earth and Jupiter in significant ways. Lightning storms on Earth tend to be localized and short-lived, lasting only a few hours. Jupiter storms can last for days and lightning is far more common there than on Saturn.

Since entering orbit around Saturn in 2004, Cassini has witnessed 10 storms in a region of the southern hemisphere known as “storm alley” because of the high level of storm activity.

The previous storms were much weaker compared with the latest one, the first to be detected in the northern hemisphere.

Comments (167)
  1. Hazel Burke says:

    I hope the Jetsons aren’t on vacation this week.

    1. Steve says:

      George is 89 and lives in a home now, Hazel. Jane is shacking up with Rosie and couldn’t be reached for comment.

  2. A-10 Bring the Rain says:

    It must be Global Warming !!!!!!

    1. Martin says:

      Exactly, but they haven’t pinpointed whether the cause was Man-made or Martian-made Global Warming!

  3. Eric says:

    I see the storms turbulence has worked its way around the planet at least once. Curious how it has dropped towards the equator while doing so. I wonder if rotational inertia has something to do w/ it.

    1. David Bennett says:

      Most likely you are correct. Fluid dynamics on that scale is awesome.

      1. CONNECTICUT SSN 042-68-4425 says:

    2. Vincent says:

      It looks from the picture like the storm is actually moving away from the equator… with the dissipated ring below the more concentrated ring indicating it’s moving toward the pole

  4. Wal says:

    I heard that the IRS is sending a TAX bill to ET! Since they have so much money to fly around the galaxy!

  5. Fred says:

    Could it be ash from volcanic activity? Certainly that would cause a severe electrical storm.

    Man as soon as Drudge links to anything the idiots are on the loose.

    1. Jess says:

      LOL, idiot is right Saturn is a gas giant. No possibility of volcanic activity there… ;-P

      1. aelfheld says:

        Not so.

    2. TSC says:

      Gas giants don’t have rocky interiors like terrestrial planets do – ie, neither lithosphere nor mantle. Lacking those, they can’t have volcanoes.

      1. aelfheld says:

        Where did you get that idea from?

    3. Peebo says:

      You must be referring to yourself… idiot!

    4. Massimo Deportado says:

      Hey Flintstone,
      What’s your beef with Matt?
      He doesn’t kiss Nbamas @ss?
      Can’t hear you with Bonnie Fwanks weiner in your mouth….

  6. HL says:

    Saturn’s spring? If its seasons are analogous to ours, it should be having
    a simultaneous spring and autumn, depending which hemisphere is considered. Since the storm is occurring in its northern hemisphere, I think that answers the question not raised and answered in the article. HL

    1. TSC says:

      While Saturn does have a slighty larger tilt of it’s axis than earth (26 degrees for Saturn, 23 for earth), it’s large distance from the Sun means that the difference in solar radiation reaching it’s two hemispheres is not nearly as large as the difference between hemispheres here on earth.

    2. Grant Smith says:

      Yes we need a Saturn spring, not unlike our quote “Arab Spring” unquote. We can liberate the people of Saturn by bombing the $h1t out of them. This is the official policy, so be a patriot and bomb Saturn!

      http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/07/07/a-mini-movie-in-blackboard-form-why-the-lefts-global-warming-agenda-is-wrong/ <— Not really a left-right issue

  7. David Bennett says:

    I have heard that all of the solar system planets are heating up.


    I wouldn’t post ATS stuff but the article has links to interviews and whatnot suggesting Earth isn’t the only planet going through this. I think our solar system is moving through an area of galactic space that is more high-energy partical dense than what we had been in. We are hurtling through the galaxy ya know. Can’t expect the galaxy to be a smooth ride. I really wish Al Gore would . . .

    wait for it . . .

    STFU! and GTFO!

  8. Cromulent says:

    Jesse Jackson will travel to Saturn for a dialogue with authorities on Saturn concerning their discrimination against black spots.

    1. c0mm0nsense says:

      I think its racist that they call such a negative event a “White Spot”… I will be contacting the ACLU to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all Earth’s Caucasian people.

      1. Guest says:

        We all know geeeks are racist just look at ATA Master/Slave for example. 🙂

      2. Frankie D says:

        Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) will introduce legislation to force the Saturn government to be more “color inclusive” in their storm naming.

        President Obama in his monthly appearance with the White Hous Press corps, stated that, “The Saturn government acted stupidly” in naming the storm as they did. Obama admitted that he didn’t have all the facts about the naming, but that he decided to chastise them anyway.

      3. President of Space says:

        Rep. Lee was also wondering when she’ll be able to see the American flag that Neil Armstrong planted on Saturn.

    2. Observer says:

      Actually, this is a White spot because it is putting out energy, hence, work. If it was a Black spot (like a sunspot) it would be less active than everything else around it. And probably lobbying to tax its more productive neighbors to provide it lifestyle.

    3. Grant Smith says:

      Saturn is a perfectly cromulent planet.

  9. Lab says:

    comet impacts.” prepare” here also.

  10. Lowsky says:

    There go my vacaton plans for the fall

  11. JoetheAssociate says:

    Clearly this is the result of something man-made, right Algore? Oh wait, it must be Bush’s fault.

  12. Troy says:

    WOW! So about 100Billion volts to 1.2 TRILLION volts!!! (10,000 x the comparable Earth lightning values)

  13. John says:

    Have the checked the CO2 levels on Saturn? I am certain CO2 has something to do with the white spot, now I just need to get consensus to prove it.

    That is how it works, right?

  14. Kilgore Trout says:

    And it’s ALL George Bush’s fault!

    1. Kmandingo says:

      Always an idiotic it’s Bush’s fault comment. KT, it’s been done and it’s not funny anymore.

      1. CygnusX1 says:

        O.K., So please complain to Obama “The Dear Leader” and his minions about, still to this day, blaming Bush about every possible thing. The Dear Leader and his minions have been in charge for 29 months now. Seems to me it is time for them to “OWN” this economy after the spending they have implemented without a positive result.

        All the “Blame Bush” comments here are sarcastic responses to what all the Libs and our Dear Leader have been saying all this time.

  15. Norm says:

    1937 don’t you realize that the clouds are plumes of many rocket contrails as the Saturnarian aliens blast off to INVADE the Earth

    1. aelfheld says:

      I for one welcome our new Saturnian overlords.

      1. Grant Smith says:

        Kent Brockman reference? Tasty.

  16. mr mark says:

    Your tax dollars at work, paying for studying storms on another planet!! Why are we paying for this? Let universities and businesses do this. Defund, or sell, NASA NOW!

    1. aelfheld says:

      The only government agency/project that’s been a net benefit to the country and the economy and you want to kill it.

      Stupid doesn’t even begin to cover it.

  17. Marcus says:

    Saturn must be warming just like us. Or maybe changes just happen as part of nature. Nah! Locals there are probably burning fossil fuels like us here on Earth. Al Gore should get on this right away.

  18. Heater Gekas says:

    This needs to be investigated further. Seems only logical we should send someone there to check things out. Casey Anthony would be a great choice to send to Saturn!

  19. Dan says:

    This might have been asked before but how can Cassini “hear” lightning when it is in a vacuum? I don’t remember much of Jr High science class anymore.

    1. CygnusX1 says:

      Radio antenna on board Cassini. The static discharge disrupts radio waves. If anyone still listens to AM radio, lightening strikes can be “Heard” from miles if not hundreds of miles depending on the intensity of the storm and various other factors. A vacuum does not have an effect on radio waves. This is why “Radio Astronomy Telescopes” can be used to discover so many events and activity in space that a optical telescope can not observe.

      1. Dan says:

        OK, thanks! That makes sense.

  20. Hank Warren says:

    Fake global warming, yet another violation of our rights. Add it to the list of gov’t violations of our rights:
    They violate the 1st Amendment by placing protesters in cages, banning books like “America Deceived II” and censoring the internet.
    They violate the 2nd Amendment by confiscating guns.
    They violate the 4th and 5th Amendment by molesting airline passengers.
    They violate the entire Constitution by starting undeclared wars for foreign countries.
    Impeach Obama, vote for Ron Paul.
    (Last link of Banned Book):

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