Saturn has a huge, swirling storm at its South Pole. The storm is a bit like a hurricane on Earth. This gigantic storm is about 8,000 km (5,000 miles) across!
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Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Saturn's Southern Polar Vortex

If you wanted to go someplace warm for a vacation, would you choose the South Pole? If you lived on Saturn you might! Saturn's South Pole is the warmest place on the ringed planet. Watch out for the weather, though. There is a really huge storm like a hurricane right at Saturn's South Pole.

Scientists made a "heat map" of Saturn using infrared "light". They were surprised when they looked at it. It showed that the warmest place on Saturn is at the South Pole. One scientist said that if we found this temperature pattern on Earth it would be "like discovering that Antarctica is hotter than the Sahara Desert".

There is a really, really big storm at Saturn's South Pole, too. I looks sort of like a hurricane on Earth. The storm has spiral bands of clouds, high wind speeds, and a gigantic eyewall. Hurricanes on Earth move around, but the one on Saturn stays in one spot right over the pole.

Saturn's "hurricane" is really, really big. It is much larger than hurricanes on Earth. Clouds in the eyewall tower 30 to 75 kilometers (19 to 47 miles) above their surroundings. That is 2 to 5 times higher than in hurricanes on Earth! Winds around Saturn's pole can blow as fast as 550 km/hour (342 miles per hour).

The "polar hurricane" on Saturn is the first storm with an eyewall discovered beyond Earth. Even Jupiter's Great Red Spot, which is much larger than Saturn's storm, does not have an eye or an eyewall.

Last modified January 20, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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