Storm chasing on Saturn

Storm chasing on Saturn

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. This talk 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.

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About Brigette Hesman

Brigette Hesman is a planetary scientist at the University of Maryland working at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. She studies the composition of the atmospheres of the giant planets. Brigette earned her PhD from the University of Saskatchewan in 2005 and started as a post-doctoral researcher at Goddard that same year. Since arriving at Goddard she has worked as part of the Composite Infrared Spectrometer team on the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. Her recent research has focused on using infrared spectra to investigate the effects of Saturn’s storm systems on the planet’s atmosphere. She is also part of a team that uses various ground-based telescopes to provide support observations for Cassini.

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