By Deborah Netburn
6:37 PM PST, December 30, 2013
Scientists working on the Cassini mission have released a new image of the vortex above Saturn's north pole, and it looks like Dororthy's and Toto's worst nightmare.
In the first image in the gallery above, you will see a massive cyclone with an eye 1,250 miles wide - about 20 times larger than what you would find on Earth. And the winds are blowing four times faster than a typical hurricane on our planet.
The image was taken in infrared light in June and released Monday. Each pixel represents three miles.
If you continue to click through the gallery, you will see the vortex in context. It lies in the center of a strange, six-sided jet stream that wobbles around Saturn's north pole. The jet stream, known as the hexagon, is enormous. You could fit two Earths inside its six sides.
Scientists are still learning about Saturn's strange hexagon weather pattern. It was first discovered in 1981 during Voyager 2's flyby of the planet, and it appears to have remained mostly unchanged. According to NASA scientists, there is nothing like it in the solar system.
Although Cassini has been observing Saturn since 2004, it is only in the last year that the spacecraft has been able to get a detailed look at the hexagon and the powerful weather patterns raging inside it.
The hurricane appears to be fixed at Saturn's north pole, rather than drifting around the planet like hurricanes do on Earth. Also, scientists are still trying to figure out how the hurricane developed with no body of water below it. There are no oceans on Saturn; it is a gaseous planet.
But Saturn's north pole hurricane does share some characteristics with Earth's hurricanes. For example, it has an eye, and it spins in the same direction - counterclockwise - that a hurricane would spin in Earth's Northern Hemisphere.
Scientists hope that learning more about the massive, longstanding hurricane above Saturn's north pole will help in understanding weather systems on Earth.
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