To see a thunderstorm from space on another planet is not an event that you will experience often, which is the reason why these images, taken by NASA's Cassini
spacecraft are truly impressive.
Photographed from a distance of over two million miles, Cassini captured the largest storm seen up-close at the planet, with bluish spots in the middle of
swirling clouds. Those bluish spots indicate flashes of lightning and mark the first time scientists have detected lightning in visible wavelengths on the side of
Saturn illuminated by the sun.
"We didn't think we'd see lightning on Saturn's day side - only its night side," said Ulyana Dyudina, a Cassini imaging team associate based at the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "The fact that Cassini was able to detect the lightning means that it was very intense."
The storm occurred last year. The lightning flashes appear brightest in the blue filter of Cassini's imaging camera on March 6, 2011.
Scientists aggressively heightened the blue tint of the image to determine its size and location.
Scientists are still analyzing why the blue filter catches the lightning.
It might be that the lightning really is blue, or it might be that the short exposure of the camera in the blue filter makes the
short-lived lightning easier to see.
The larger mosaic on the left of the panel shows the lightning flash, which appears as a blue dot. The smaller mosaic on the right is composed of
images taken 30 minutes later, and the lightning is not flashing at that time.
The white arrow in the annotated version of this panel points to the location where the lightning occurred in the clouds. The optical energy of this
and other flashes on Saturn is comparable to the strongest of the flashes on Earth. The flash is approximately 120 miles (200 kilometers) in diameter
when it exits the tops of the clouds. Image credit: NASA
What scientists do know is that the intensity of the flash is comparable to the strongest flashes on Earth. The visible energy alone is estimated to be
about 3 billion watts lasting for one second. The flash is approximately 100 miles (200 kilometers) in diameter when it exits the tops of the clouds.
From this, scientists deduce that the lightning bolts originate in the clouds deeper down in Saturn's atmosphere where water droplets freeze.
This is analogous to where lightning is created in Earth's atmosphere.
As summer storm season descends upon Earth's northern latitudes, Cassini provides us a great opportunity to see how weather plays out at different places
in our solar system," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist.
MessageToEagle.com based on information provided by NASA
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