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(Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)
Smoke on a windy day? Swirling fog? Almost. You see, on its approach to Saturn last May, the narrow angle camera on the Cassini spacecraft snapped this image of a turbulent swirl in the high clouds of Saturn’s atmosphere. The disturbance occurs in the southern edge of the planet’s equatorial band. The spacecraft was 22 million kilometers (13.7 million miles) from Saturn at the time. The image scale is 131 kilometers (81 miles) per pixel. The scalloped pattern of the planet’s gas bands is probably indicative of planet-scale wave motions in the atmosphere.
As Cassini continued its vigil, Saturn’s atmosphere continued to churn and morph through time, and it imaged four large, dark spots, or storms, forming a symmetrical pattern in the mid-southern latitudes. These storms seemed to battle for prominence, and some squeezed into one. Further observations will show whether these storms merge or spawn new spots of their own.
The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.