In 2008, NASA Cassini’s spacecraft beamed back close images of the hotspots, which astronomers have previously observed on Saturn’s poles and the images revealed the existence of massive cyclones, each as wide as Earth.
This discovery had led to a big question, how such massive cyclones could exist on a planet with no moisture providing water on its surface, as on Earth. The combination of the moisture and heat is necessary for the creation of cyclones.
Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT think they may have discovered the answer to Saturn’s immense cyclone, the accumulation of angular momentum over time as a result of a series of small, short-lived thunderstorms which ultimately lead to the creation of long-lasting cyclones at the poles.
MIT’s Jennifer Chu said, “Over time, small, short-lived thunderstorms across the planet may build up angular momentum, or spin, within the atmosphere — ultimately stirring up a massive and long-lasting vortex at the poles.”
To reach this conclusion, researchers have developed a simple model of the distant planet’s atmosphere which was used to stimulate the effect of the formation of multiple small thunderstorms across the planet over time.
Researchers observed that the accumulation of air at the poles, as each thunderstorm essentially pulled air towards the poles. As a result to the build up, the small isolated storms were able to accumulate enough energy to produce significantly larger, longer-lasting cyclone.
Morgon O’Neil, a former PhD student at MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences or EAPS and current postdoc at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and the lead author of the study, indicated that the model might eventually find use as a tool used in the assessment of atmospheric conditions on planets outside solar system.
The findings of the study are published in the journal Nature Geoscience on June 15, 2015.