Saturn's Superstorm

  • Released Thursday, November 15th, 2012
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:52PM
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A spectacular storm, massive enough to be seen from Earth, erupted in Saturn's northern hemisphere in December 2010. The storm spawned bright clouds that wrapped all the way around the planet, while its powerful vortex grew larger than Jupiter's Great Red Spot. But the greatest surprises came six months after the storm began, as visible signs started to fade. That's when NASA's Cassini spacecraft and ground-based observers caught Saturn letting out an unprecedented belch of energy and releasing a huge amount of ethylene gas. The energy sent temperatures soaring in Saturn's atmosphere, a spike comparable in scale to jumping straight from deep winter in Fairbanks, Alaska, to high summer in the Mojave Desert. Scientists are still puzzled by the mysterious release of ethylene, a gas not typically observed on Saturn. Watch the videos to learn more about this rare and surprising superstorm.

Three weeks after the storm erupted, it stretched 6,000 miles north to south and 11,000 miles east to west.

Three weeks after the storm erupted, it stretched 6,000 miles north to south and 11,000 miles east to west.

Crisscrossing winds sheared the storm clouds, and twelve weeks after the storm began, the clouds had wrapped around the entire planet.

Crisscrossing winds sheared the storm clouds, and twelve weeks after the storm began, the clouds had wrapped around the entire planet.

If an equivalent storm took place on Earth, it would blanket most of North America top to bottom and circle the globe.

If an equivalent storm took place on Earth, it would blanket most of North America top to bottom and circle the globe.

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Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Video courtesy of NASA/GSFC/JPL-Caltech
Animation courtesy of ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/SSI/ESO/IRTF/C. Carreau
Images courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute