Chasing storms on Saturn


Brigette Hesman is a storm chaser, but she doesn't chase ordinary thunderstorms or tornados. Brigette chases storms big enough to wrap around the entire planet Saturn. She is a planetary scientist at the University of Maryland working at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

White spots erupt in the clouds of Saturn about once every Saturn year. The latest appeared in December 2010 and produced significant long-term effects in the planet’s northern hemisphere. Over a period of three months the storm clouds wrapped around the entire planet, creating a band that was easily visible through amateur telescopes. For the first time, it was possible to follow the development of such a storm from a spacecraft orbiting Saturn, namely Cassini.

Infrared measurements by Cassini detected two hot spots, termed beacons, that merged to create a vortex in the stratosphere of Saturn larger than Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

Her talk on Saturday afternoon will discuss the history of Saturn’s white spots, Cassini’s findings on this most recent one and how the spacecraft was able to follow the effects of the storm long after the visible clouds had subsided.

Find out more about Saturn's 2010 Great White Spot in the NASA video below.