Windy worlds

Taking a look at our solar system, there are a few traits shared by numerous planets. One of these is the curious phenomenon of atmospheric superrotation. Planets with a dense atmosphere seem to have a constant prevailing wind in one direction. Exactly why this is the case is still a matter of some debate, but the effect is quite readily apparent. Venus, for instance, is a prime example. The atmosphere on Venus whips around the planet, completing a full rotation once every four Earth days or so. Remarkable, given that the planet’s surface only rotates once every 243 Earth days. A similar thing happens on Saturn’s moon Titan.

But by far the most dramatic example is with the gas giants. Any gas giant has so much atmosphere that it’s practically impossible to tell where exactly the planet’s actual surface may be – if indeed any “surface” may even exist in a form we might recognise. As a result, gas giants boast dramatic winds, which sculpt incredibly beautiful vortices at their North and South poles. Vortices like this one.

The eye of a global storm!

Taken by the ever faithful Cassini probe a couple of weeks ago, this is a breathtaking view of the vortex at Saturn’s North pole. Gorgeous, isn’t it?


About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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5 Responses to Windy worlds

  1. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Monday links « A Bit More Detail

  2. Really cool! It looks like the vortex even has little sub-vortexes.

    • invaderxan says:

      Indeed it does! By the look of them, I’d say those are Kelvin-Helmhotz instabilities.

      Basically, anytime you have two layers of fluid moving against each other at different speeds, you end up with this kind of wavy pattern happening. They’re seen a lot on planets like Jupiter and Saturn, but they can also be seen here on Earth.

  3. Luke says:

    Thank you for posting again! I love your blog!

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