Cassini spies massive atmospheric discharge on Saturn

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been observing Saturn and has recorded enormous disturbances in the upper atmosphere of the ringed planet. The disturbances in the upper atmosphere were so massive that it set records as some of the largest storms ever seen on the planet. According to the scientists, the composite infrared spectrometer instrument on Cassini noted that the powerful atmospheric discharge pushed the temperature in Saturn's stratosphere 150°F above normal.

The scientists also note that they detected a huge increase in the quantity of ethylene gas in the upper atmosphere during the discharge. Where exactly that huge amount of ethylene gas came from is unknown. Ethylene is said to be a strange gas to find on Saturn.

The gas is colorless, odorless, and is rarely found on Saturn. The gas is associated with biological processes here on earth. To make the discovery of the massive atmospheric discharge even more baffling, scientists report that the temperature spike was so extreme as to border on "unbelievable." The discharge occurred in a portion of Saturn's atmosphere that is typically very stable.

To illustrate the extreme temperature change associated with the atmospheric discharge the scientists attempted to put things in perspective for us. According to scientist Brigitte Hesman, the temperature change equates to going from the deepest and coldest part of winter in Fairbanks, Alaska to the height of summer in the Mojave Desert here on earth. The storm that caused the massive atmospheric discharge was first observed by Cassini in the northern hemisphere of Saturn on December 5, 2010. The ethylene gas discharge peaked at levels 100 times higher than scientists believed was possible on Saturn.

[via PlanetSave]