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NASA spacecraft captures hurricane the size of Australia on video

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NASA Cassini Saturn storm image (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)
NASA Cassini Saturn storm image (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

A massive hurricane at Saturn's north pole is coming into sharper focus than ever before thanks to new close-up imagery and video released today by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The storm, which has cloud speeds up to 330 miles per hour and an eye that's 1,250 miles wide — about 20 times the size of an average hurricane eye on Earth, or about half the size of Australia — has been active for an indeterminate number of years, according to NASA. "We are still analyzing the other images to figure out the larger extent of the storm," says Kunio Sayanagi, an assistant professor of planetary science at Hampton University affiliated with the mission.

But it was hidden from view until 2009, when winter ended at Saturn's north pole and sunlight streamed into the region. Even then, NASA's unmanned Cassini spacecraft had to wait until November 2012 to move into position to capture these images. The one at the top of this article is a false color representing different cloud elevations: red corresponds to low clouds and green to high ones. Scientists hope that by studying how this hurricane exists using just the small amounts of water vapor present on Saturn, they can better understand how hurricanes form here on Earth. In the mean time, NASA is releasing the visuals for the public to enjoy. Check out other views here at NASA's Cassini website.