Scientists may have solved the mystery of Saturn's 30-year storms

Scientists and astronomers have been studying Saturn for almost as long as there have been telescopes. One thing that these observers have noted about Saturn that has remained a mystery for the 140 years of telescope observations of the planet so far is why massive storms erupt on the surface of the planet about every 30 years.

Scientists think that they may have solved that mystery thanks to data from the NASA Cassini mission. The massive tempest on the planet can be so powerful that they grow into bright bands that encircle the entire planet.

According to the researchers, these massive storms are on a natural timer that is reset by each subsequent storm. The effect believed to cause the storms is water vapor in the air that is heavier than hydrogen and helium that make up most of Saturn's atmosphere. Researchers believe that when the massive storms dump huge amounts of rain, the air inside the clouds is lighter than the atmosphere below and begins to rise into the upper atmosphere.

That process for a time stops the convection process where warm moist air rises and the cool dense air sinks, which is what creates the storm clouds. Researcher Cheng Li says that the air above the storms has to lose heat to space to make its density greater than the hot, wet air below and that cooling process takes about 30 years to complete. After the cooling is done, the air sinks the storms begin.