The eye of Saturn’s storm

Sitting at Saturn’s south pole is a vortex of monstrous proportions. The dark ‘eye’ of this feature is some 8000 km across, or about two thirds the diameter of Earth.

This image is 10 times more detailed than any previous picture of the polar vortex and shows a level of detail inside the eye that was not previously observable. Earlier images showed towering clouds around the edge of this vortex, but inside the air was thought to be mostly transparent. Here, however, a multitude of features is revealed.

Clouds are produced by convection – warm, rising gases in the atmosphere of Saturn. As they reach higher, and therefore colder, layers of the atmosphere, the gases condense and appear as clouds. At the 10 o’clock position, a stream of upwelling gas has created its own smaller vortex inside the larger one.

This view is an adjusted composite of two frames taken by the Cassini spacecraft on 14 July 2008. Cassini actually captured the scene from an oblique angle, some 56º below the plane of Saturn’s rings – a far cry from the view directly over the south pole. The orbiter was about 392 000 km from the planet at the time, yet Cassini’s camera still provided a resolution of 2 km per pixel.

Towering eye-walls of cloud are a distinguishing feature of hurricanes on Earth. Like earthly hurricanes, the eye of this storm is composed of warmer gas than the surroundings. However, whereas hurricanes are powered by warm water and move across the surface of our planet, this vortex has no liquid ocean at its base and remains fixed to Saturn’s south pole.

Round, swirling vortices are part of the general circulation in the atmospheres of all four giant, outer planets, and Cassini has spied many mobile ones rolling through Saturn’s clouds at other latitudes. While vortices are often informally referred to as storms, scientists generally reserve that term for bright, short-lived bursts of convection that punch though the clouds, often accompanied by lightning.  

In addition to being a thing of beauty, the vortex provides astronomers with a way to look deep into the planet’s atmosphere.

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Opening session – Living Planet 2016

Held in Prague, Czech Republic, the Living Planet Symposium 2016 brings together scientists and users from across the globe to present their latest findings on Earth’s environment and climate derived from satellite data.

Special sessions are dedicated to ESA’s programmes and initiatives, as well as the numerous application areas for satellite Earth observation data.

Click here for more videos from the Living Planet Symposium 2016

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Strong geomagnetic storms in progress

A G3 - Strong geomagnetic storm conditions were observed beginning 05:59 UTC on May 8, 2016. G2 - Moderate to G3 - Strong geomagnetic storm conditions are expected through the rest of the day and possibly into May 9 and 10. This activity is caused by a recurrent,...... Read more »

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Southern star Aurora

A timelapse video by European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake taken during his six-month Principia mission on the International Space Station.
 
 The International Space Station travels at 28 800 km/h meaning that it only takes 90 minutes to circle Earth completely. Each orbit the Station moves around 2200 km to the West in relation to 90 minutes before.
 
 Astronauts use normal consumer digital cameras to take pictures in their spare time. Setting the camera to take an image every few seconds and then playing the images back quickly creates this timelapse effect.
 
 The British astronaut commented on this timelapse: "The southern stars rotating behind this aurora. Timelapse video, 25 times faster than original"

More about the Principia mission: http://www.esa.int/Principia

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Hubble Spies the Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 4394

Shown in this Hubble Space Telescope image, NGC 4394 is the archetypal barred spiral galaxy, with bright spiral arms emerging from the ends of a bar that cuts through the galaxy’s central bulge. These arms are peppered with young blue stars, dark filaments of cosmic dust, and bright, fuzzy regions of active star formation.

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Hubble Spies the Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 4394

Shown in this Hubble Space Telescope image, NGC 4394 is the archetypal barred spiral galaxy, with bright spiral arms emerging from the ends of a bar that cuts through the galaxy’s central bulge. These arms are peppered with young blue stars, dark filaments of cosmic dust, and bright, fuzzy regions of active star formation.

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Hubble Spies the Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 4394

Shown in this Hubble Space Telescope image, NGC 4394 is the archetypal barred spiral galaxy, with bright spiral arms emerging from the ends of a bar that cuts through the galaxy’s central bulge. These arms are peppered with young blue stars, dark filaments of cosmic dust, and bright, fuzzy regions of active star formation.

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