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JWST images show last glimpse of Saturn's huge, warm polar vortex

The Leicester team used the MIRI instrument on JWST to study Saturn's atmosphere in infrared light. Read More

Wednesday September 13, 2023 3:33 PM, ummid.com News Network

JWST images show last glimpse of Saturn's huge, warm polar vortex

London: Analysis of the latest images captured by James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) showed the last glimpse of Saturn's huge and warm polar vortex as the Planet underwent season change.

Based on JWS Telescope images planetary scientists noticed that Saturn's late northern summer is experiencing a cooling trend, as huge planetary-scale flows of air have reversed direction as autumn approaches.

The findings, published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets by the University of Leicester researchers, provides new insights into the changing seasons on the massive outer planet, famous for its icy rings.

Like Earth, Saturn has an axial tilt and experiences seasons in the same way. However, Saturn takes 30 years to orbit the Sun, so the seasons last for 7.5 Earth-years. Northern-hemisphere summer on Earth and Saturn both is now coming to an end.

While Earth is heading for the northern autumn equinox in September, Saturn is heading for the northern autumn equinox in 2025, which means the north poles of both planets are heading for extended periods of polar winter.

Study of Saturn's atmosphere

The Leicester team used the MIRI instrument on JWST to study Saturn's atmosphere in infrared light, which allows them to measure the temperatures, gaseous abundances, and clouds from the churning cloud tops to regions high in the atmosphere known as the stratosphere.

“The quality of the new data from JWST is simply breath-taking — in one short set of observations, we’ve been able to continue the legacy of the Cassini mission into a completely new Saturnian season, watching how the weather patterns and atmospheric circulation respond to the changing sunlight,” said Professor Leigh Fletcher, from the varsity’s School of Physics and Astronomy.

The warm 1500-km wide north polar cyclone (NPC), which was first observed by the Cassini mission, can be seen at the north pole. This is surrounded by a broader region of warm gases called the north-polar stratospheric vortex (NPSV), which formed in Saturnian spring and has persisted throughout its northern summer.

These are warm vortices high in the stratosphere, heated by the sun’s warmth during Saturn’s long summer season.

As autumn equinox approaches in 2025, the north polar stratospheric vortex will begin cooling down and will disappear as the northern hemisphere recedes into the darkness of autumn.

“JWST can see in wavelengths of light that were inaccessible to any previous spacecraft, producing an exquisite dataset that whets the appetite for the years to come. This work on Saturn is just the first of a programme of observations of all four giant planets, and JWST is providing a capability beyond anything we’ve had in the past — if we can get so many new findings from a single observation of a single world, imagine what discoveries await?” Fletcher said.

Saturn was chosen as an early target for James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a joint project of European Space Agency, NASA, Canadian Space Agency, as a test of its capabilities.

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