Saturn is previously not recognized to possess the power of experiencing Megastorms. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has remained the most popular storm in the solar system. However, a recent study enabled scientists to learn more about Saturn storms. Researchers from the University of Califonia, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor recently found that Saturn generates megastorms every 20 to 30 years. The astronomers were fascinated by how the second-largest gas giant retains the evidence of such powerful storms in its atmosphere for centuries.
How Astronomers Came up with this discovery about Powerful Saturn Storms
Scientists from the two aforementioned Universities came together to conduct a new study about Saturn storms.
“Understanding the mechanisms of the largest storms in the solar system puts the theory of hurricanes [on Earth] into a broader cosmic context, challenging our current knowledge and pushing the boundaries of terrestrial meteorology,” said lead author Cheng Li, and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, in an official statement.
The researchers discovered that the megastorms on Saturn can be compared with hurricanes that occur on Earth. However, Saturn storms are more energetic by far. Astronomers that participated in the research are not sure about the atmospheric factors that generate such powerful Saturn storms. The atmosphere of the most ringed planet in the solar system mostly contains hydrogen and helium, in combination with smaller amounts of methane, ammonia, and water.
Scientists that conducted this research studied the radio emissions from Saturn’s surface with the aid of Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico. Based on the emission data provided by the radio telescope, the researchers noticed long-term disruptions of ammonia gas. The team measured the ammonia concentrations at several atmospheric altitudes. This is because these concentrations travel through Saturn’s atmosphere like water.
“At radio wavelengths, we probe below the visible cloud layers on giant planets. Since chemical reactions and dynamics will alter the composition of a planet’s atmosphere, observations below these cloud layers are required to constrain the planet’s true atmospheric composition, a key parameter for planet formation models,” said Imke de Pater, a UC Berkeley professor. “Radio observations help characterize dynamical, physical, and chemical processes, including heat transport, cloud formation, and convection in the atmospheres of giant planets on both global and local scales,” he added.
How researchers studied the Mysterious Ammonia Distribution on Saturn
Scientists started studying ammonia concentrations after the most recent Saturn storms that occurred in 2010. However, the researchers marvels to find out that the storms occurred much earlier in 1876. More research evidence is even suggesting that they may occur earlier and still disrupt activities in Saturn’s atmosphere until this day.
Researchers evaluated data to discover irregularities in the ammonia distribution of ammonia gas across Saturn’s atmosphere. In addition, Scientists that participated in the study revealed that the mysterious ammonia concentration may have played a role in the past megastorms that occurred in the planet’s northern hemisphere. They noticed that the distribution of ammonia lowers at mid-altitudes. This implies that the distributions fall below the topmost ammonia-ice cloud layer.
However, the ammonia distributions still remain in excess at lower altitudes of about 100 to 200 kilometers deeper in the atmosphere. Hence, the ammonia may transfer from the upper to the lower atmosphere via precipitation and re-evaporation. Scientists revealed that these strange ammonia concentrations at different levels may last for centuries.
The recent study about Saturn storms could enable researchers in understanding how they occur in distant exoplanets in the future. The astronomers published the new study in the journal Science Advances.
Scientists recently discovered massive megastorms on Saturn. The team of researchers is hoping that this discovery on Saturn storms will enable them to understand how megastorms occur on exoplanets in the future. What do you think about this interesting discovery?