An Enduring Rapidly Moving Storm as a Guide to Saturn’s Equatorial Jet Complex Structure
Thursday, 17 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Saturn has an intense and broad eastward equatorial jet at cloud level whose variability and meridional and vertical structure are complex and actively debated. Due to its 27º rotation axis tilt and orbital eccentricity, Saturn is under a strong seasonal insolation cycle, enhanced at equator by the ring shadowing periods. These factors make it a good natural laboratory to test models of equatorial jet generation in giant planets. We report on a bright equatorial storm observed in 2015 that moved rapidly but steadily at a high speed of 450 ms-1, not reported since Voyagers times (Sanchez-Lavega et al., Icarus 147, 405-420, 2000). Imaging with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) WFC3 showed detailed storm morphology at red wavelengths (689, 750 and 937 nm) confirming its high speed. Other equatorial clouds moved with velocities matching the Cassini ISS profile (García-Melendo et al., Icarus, 215, 62-74, 2011), while the storm matches the Voyager 1 and 2 profile. We interpret this result as the simultaneous detection of the wind profile at two separated altitude levels within the cloud layer. In addition, the HST methane band and ultraviolet images, allowed retrieving winds at a third altitude level of motion, in the haze layer above the cloud deck. Combining the current wind data with previous dates allowed us to construct a vertical – meridional section of the structure of Saturn’s equatorial jet at cloud level. We discuss the implications of these results on the long-term stability of Saturn’s equatorial jet.