Planet Storms Alive and Kickin’

When your normal view of the planets is as bright pinpricks in the night sky, it’s easy to forget the roiling weather that can plague these worlds. David Baker and Todd Ratcliff took us on a wild tour of our solar system’s extreme weather in Sky & Telescope’s September 2012 issue. But when it comes to natural phenomena, nothing quite conveys awe like video.

dust devils on Mars
A compilation of frames taken by the Spirit's navigation camera during the rover's 543rd Martian day (July 13, 2005). Click on the image for a larger view.
NASA / JPL / Texas A&M
As Baker and Ratcliff explain, gigantic dust devils scour Mars’s surface every day. One whirlwind, spotted in March 2012 by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, towered 12 miles above the surface. Such storms don’t pack a large punch — they actually helped clean off the rovers’ solar panels.

This movie clip is a compilation of frames taken by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit of dust devils sweeping across a plain inside Gusev Crater. These images have not been processed to make the dust devils stand out more, but you’ll still be able to spot their pale figures dancing across the landscape. The total time elapsed during the taking of these frames was 12 minutes, 17 seconds.

Nothing says extreme weather like Jupiter. One of the best views of its moving atmosphere is a movie compilation done by Bjö rn J ó nsson of photos taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. Click below to watch Jupiter's cloud bands rotate, swirl, and evolve over a 24-day period.

There's a bit more information about Jupiter weather watching from our SkyWatch 2012 online content, too.

Lightning awes the eye, but video of flashes on Saturn are frankly rather bland. NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured more than images, though: its radio and plasma wave instrument detected signals like the AM radio static heard on Earth due to terrestrial lightning. The sounds of lightning strikes in the recording below are from March 15, 2011, during the largest and most intense storm observed up-close at Saturn. The 12-second clip covers data obtained over a period of 57 seconds.

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