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New white spot on Saturn grows, changes.

New white spot on Saturn grows, changes

A huge "white spot," discovered in Saturn's atmosphere in late September (SN: 10/13/90, p.228), has developed into a wide band that now encircles the planet's equator. These photos, taken Nov. 9 (left) and Nov. 11, are the Hubble Space Telescope's first images of the dramatic feature.

The clouds probably consist of ammonia ice crystals, says James A. Westphal of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The Hubble images, sharper than photos taken through Earth's atmosphere by ground-based telescopes, reveal structural details of what Westphal calls "a very turbulent atmosphere that is very similar to the cloud system that trails the Great Red Spot on Jupiter." Indeed, he says, "maybe Saturn is turning into another Jupiter, and is in the process of developing the same kind of prominent banded structure in its atmosphere."

Astronomers have sighted fewer than two dozen white spots on Saturn during the last two centuries. Only four of these unusual features (the most recent detected in 1933) were "great white spots" lasting more than a few weeks, and none seemed nearly as big as the present one.

The small white and black spots in these photos are artifacts caused by such factors as cosmic rays hitting the camera, Westphal says.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 24, 1990
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