The Storms of Saturn

A bracelet
of cosmic splendour,
banded clouds
wrapped tight with
swirling stripes of haze
to mask the
rage within.
Tempests prowl
broad rings,
ravenous brutes
whose chaos-breath
engulfs the skies,
leaving only absence
in their wake.
Violent beasts
who come
and go
as they please,
their long shadows
Storm-ghosts from centuries past,
whose memory burns bright
in cloud and wind
long after
they are dead
and gone.

A huge storm dominates the rather featureless surface of Saturn in an image taken by the Cassini spacecraft on Feb. 25, 2011, about 12 weeks after the powerful storm was first detected in the planet’s northern hemisphere (Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that mega-storms leave marks on Saturn’s atmosphere for centuries.

Giant storms are a regular occurrence on Saturn, the ringed gas giant. Every few decades, an enormous eruption will engulf the planet, causing chaos and disruption across Saturn’s atmosphere. These mega-storms have been observed periodically over history, with six massive events being definitively recorded. The reasons behind these gigantic upheavals are still being studied and their long-term impacts are only starting to be understood. What is clear is that they fundamentally shape Saturn’s atmospheric patterns, composition, and weather in their aftermath.

In this study, researchers found long-lasting effects from Saturn’s past giant storms. Using a large radio telescope array in 2015, they probed the deep atmospheric response to the storms. They discovered lingering signatures from all mid-latitude storms going back hundreds of years, as well as evidence of an older unreported storm at 70° north latitude. The research produced a map showing the extended north-south movement over time of the ammonia gas disturbance caused by the storms. Interestingly, the most recent storm in 2010 split into two parts moving in opposite directions, leaving a gap at 43° north latitude on Saturn. The study provides new insights into how these massive eruptions continue to shape Saturn’s atmosphere long after they have subsided.

3 thoughts on “The Storms of Saturn”

  1. Also: ‘storm-ghosts’ is a good turn-of-phrase for this atmospheric memory effect. I’ve long surmised that ‘ghosts’ are forms of memory (that which persists when then original event/form/cause is passed).


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