In December 2010, an enormous storm broke out in Saturn’s northern hemisphere. The tempest initially appeared as a “Great White Spot” in amateur telescopes, but within weeks it formed a tail that eventually wrapped around the entire planet. Remnants of the tail are still visible today, 15 months after the storm was first spotted in amateur images.
Amateur astronomers not only discovered the spot, imagers from nations as diverse as the U.S., Australia, the Philippines, Japan, France, and Iran monitored the growth and evolution of the storm, giving planetary scientists their best opportunity yet to study the Great White Spot phenomenon.
In the May 2012 issue of S&T, planetary scientist Agustín Sánchez-Lavega of the Universidad del País Vasco in Spain describes how the storm began as a powerful thunderstorm deep below Saturn’s cloudtops, and how the storm rose to prominence and eventually formed its extended tail. Given the limitations of magazine pages, we could only publish a fraction of the beautiful images that were available to us. Here we show several more stunning pictures of the sixth and most recent outbreak of a Saturnian Great White Spot.
All images courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute unless otherwise noted.