Scientists find hundred-year storms on Saturn

Credit: S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF), I. de Pater et al (UC Berkeley)

When we think of massive storms in our solar system, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot often comes to mind.

But a recent study has cast a spotlight on Saturn, revealing that this seemingly calm planet also experiences intense, long-lasting megastorms that can leave their mark for centuries.

Delving Deep into Saturn’s Atmosphere

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor delved into the mysteries of Saturn’s atmosphere.

By studying radio emissions, which provide a glimpse below the planet’s surface, they discovered disruptions in the distribution of ammonia gas.

The patterns they observed suggest that these disruptions have links to the planet’s megastorms, which surface approximately every 20 to 30 years.

These storms are vastly larger than Earth’s hurricanes and have unknown origins, given Saturn’s unique atmosphere comprised mostly of hydrogen and helium.

While these findings are fascinating, Cheng Li, the study’s lead author, emphasized their broader implications:

“Understanding the largest storms in our solar system gives us a cosmic context for Earth’s hurricanes, pushing the boundaries of our meteorological understanding.”

Radio Insights and Planetary Mysteries

Imke de Pater, a seasoned researcher in the realm of gas giants, employed the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array to probe the radio emissions from within Saturn.

She explained, “Radio wavelengths let us look beneath the visible cloud layers of giant planets. This deep view helps us understand atmospheric composition and planet formation.”

The team’s observations revealed anomalies in ammonia gas concentration, with decreased levels just below the upper ammonia-ice cloud layer and increased levels deeper in the atmosphere.

They hypothesize that this pattern is due to the transfer of ammonia from higher to lower layers, a process that may have connections to the planet’s megastorms. Intriguingly, this effect can linger for hundreds of years.

Saturn vs. Jupiter: Comparing Gas Giants

One of the most striking findings of this study is the realization that even though both Saturn and Jupiter are primarily composed of hydrogen gas, their atmospheric behaviors are notably different.

While Jupiter has its own atmospheric anomalies, they’re tied to its distinct zones and belts and aren’t directly linked to storms as they are on Saturn.

These differences challenge our current understanding of gas giants and their storm formations.

As scientists continue to study these behemoths, insights gleaned from Saturn and Jupiter might also help researchers in future studies of distant exoplanets.


Saturn, often overshadowed by its more colorful sibling Jupiter, has unveiled its stormy secrets, offering researchers a new perspective on the dynamics of gas giants.

As technology advances, and our ability to study these distant giants becomes even more refined, who knows what other celestial secrets we’ll uncover?

For now, the silent storms of Saturn serve as a reminder that there’s always more to learn about our wondrous universe.

The study was published in Science Advances.