04/09/2013 06:27 BST | Updated 03/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Largest Storm On Saturn For 20 Years 'Rips Water From Surface'

The largest storm recorded on Saturn for 20 years ripped water and ammonia from the massive planet's surface.

Data from Nasa's Cassini spacecraft showed that a 2011 superstorm more than 15,000 kilometres wide was powerful enough to pull at the seams of its atmosphere.

The result is a unique insight into the composition and construction of the planet.


Nasa says that the storm (the white spot, above), when it hit, was so big that it was actually visible to amateur astronomers on Earth.

But after further study Nasa has found more than a few pretty pictures. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have shown that water ice, ammonia ice and other unknown elements were thrown up from the planet's inner clouds,

"We think this huge thunderstorm is driving these cloud particles upward, sort of like a volcano bringing up material from the depths and making it visible from outside the atmosphere," said Lawrence Sromovsky, one of the scientists behind the study.

"The upper haze is so optically pretty thick that it is only in the stormy regions where the haze is penetrated by powerful updrafts that you can see evidence for the ammonia ice and the water ice. Those storm particles have an infrared color signature that is very different from the haze particles in the surrounding atmosphere."

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