Saturn’s poles strong cyclonic vortex mystery finally unraveled

Both the north and south poles of Saturn experience colossal storms from time to time; the northern storm, which is bordered by a weird hexagonal pattern, is big enough to accommodate four Earths in it.

The majority of the planets experience storms; Great Red Spot, a storm experienced by Jupiter is probably the most famous of them all. However, till the polar storms experienced by Saturn is regarded as a mysterious event. The reason behind this mystery is possibly our lack of knowledge about the causes of these storms.

While the massive storms taking place at the planet’s poles have multiple similarities with Earth’s cyclones, it’s unlikely that the causes of the storms experienced by the two planets would be similar. This is because Earth’s cyclones are caused by moisture and heat generated by oceans and Saturn, unlike our home planet, houses the very small quantity of water, set aside oceans.


Now, a team of researchers representing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is saying that the reason behind the colossal polar storms might be other storms taking place somewhere else in the planet. The scientists have made their findings public through a paper published on the journal Nature Geoscience.

The study was led by Morgan O’Neill, an MIT Ph.D. holder and a post-doc from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. According to him, Saturn doesn’t have any surface at all; it just becomes denser as one gets deeper into it.

The team under O’Neill created a model of the planet’s atmosphere. The researchers simulated several small, passing thunderstorms in different parts of the model. This resulted in a beta drift of storms; this means thunderstorms occurring in different places drifted towards the poles of the model to form a cyclone that is not only longer-lived, but is also much larger than the smaller thunderstorms.

On our planet, beta drifts cause cyclones without water. These storms rotate in a specific direction at the planet’s surface and exactly in the opposite direction in its upper atmosphere. The combination of the two rotations results in a circulating storm boasting a spiral motion referred to as beta gyre. A beta gyre is known to divide cyclones into two halves; while the top half heads in the direction of the equator, the bottom half runs in the direction of the poles.