On the outside, Saturn almost looks like a calm, bland world, but once in a while, huge storms flare up on the ringed planet. From the short-lived Great White Spot of 1990, to the more recent storm of 2010, which grew into an atmospheric belt covering around 4 billion square kilometres (1.5 billion square miles), Saturn has proven to be a turbulent world.
And what’s more, the storms on Saturn are the second fastest in the Solar System, after ice giant Neptune, peaking at an impressive 1,800 kilometres per hour (1,120 miles per hour) and blowing in an easterly direction.
Temperatures on Saturn are normally around -185 degrees Celsius (-300 degrees Fahrenheit), but near the giant swirling polar vortex – a persistent cyclone taking pride of place at the ringed planet’s south pole – temperatures start to warm up, and while the climate doesn’t reach high enough for a suntan, this -122 degrees Celsius (-188 degrees Fahrenheit) vortex is the warmest spot on Saturn, with a powerful jet stream smashing its way through this terrifyingly fierce feature.
Saturn’s north pole also has a giant storm of its own surrounded by a persistent hexagonal cloud pattern. Spotted in 1980 and 1981 during the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 flybys, Saturn’s hexagon, complete with six clear and fairly straight sides, is estimated to have a diameter wider than two Earths. The entire structure rotates almost every 11 hours.
Sighted much more closely by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in 2009 as springtime fell on the ringed giant’s northern hemisphere, experts believe that the storm could have been raging for at least 30 years, whipping around at over 480 kilometres per hour (300 miles per hour) in a counterclockwise direction and disturbing frothy white clouds in its wake.