5:04pm

Thu October 25, 2012
The Two-Way

On Saturn, Cassini Observes Huge Storm, Causing Incredible Temperature Spike

"Frankenstorm" may be drawing the attention of meteorologists here on Earth.

But NASA scientists using the Cassini spacecraft have witnessed a rare massive storm on Saturn that was so violent it sent the temperature in the planet's stratosphere soaring to 150 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

To put it in perspective Brigette Hesman, a University of Maryland scientist who writes about the findings in the Nov. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal, says that would be like "going from the depths of winter in Fairbanks, Alaska, to the height of summer in the Mojave Desert."

"This temperature spike is so extreme it's almost unbelievable, especially in this part of Saturn's atmosphere, which typically is very stable," Hesman, who also works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a press release.

Wired explains that the oval-shaped maelstrom came to be when two warm spots in Saturn collided. NASA was able to watch the storm because Cassini is able to provide infrared images.

"All this action is linked to the 'Great Springtime Storm' that raged through Saturn's northern latitudes over late 2010 and much of 2011," Wired writes. "This global storm was the largest recorded tempest since 1903 and grew so large that the storm head traveled all the way around the planet and encountered its own tail."

This video from Goddard does a great job at explaining the storm and guding you through the Cassini images:

Another thing that happened during the aftermath of the storm is that Saturn "burped" a great amount of ethylene gas.

"Ethylene, an odorless, colorless gas, isn't typically observed on Saturn," NASA explains. "On Earth, it is created by natural and man-made sources."

Scientists are still trying to explain where the gas came from.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.