Menu

10 Intense Extraterrestrial Storms

We tend to think of other planets as cold, lifeless wastelands where nothing of note ever happens. In the past few decades, however as we’ve been able to more closely study the other members of our Solar System, we have discovered that there’s much more happening that we’ve ever imagined.

We’ve found, for instance, that most planets are frequently ravaged by storms that make our hurricanes look like a gentle summer breeze. Below we take a closer look at some of the most spectacular extraterrestrial storms ever observed.

Saturn’s Rose-Tinted Storm

Saturn-North-Pole-Vortex

Our Solar System’s gas giants have plenty to show in terms of monstrous storms. Partly because of their size, partly because they’re mostly atmosphere, Saturn, Jupiter, and the other outer planets are frequently ravaged by storms that are not only massive, but, at least from a distance, really beautiful.

Such is Saturn’s North Pole hurricane, a mesmerizing rose-tinted storm which remains mysterious despite being extensively studied by the Cassini probe for a few years now.

The Venusian Dual Vortices

Venus is thought to have had a relatively mild climate in the distant past, perhaps even similar to our own – that is until a runaway greenhouse effect turned it into the hellish world it is today, with a thick, toxic atmosphere and the hottest surface temperatures in the Solar System. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Venus is also home to a couple of gigantic storms.

Though they both seem to wax and wane periodically, they never go away for too long. Particularly remarkable is the storm over the South Pole, which measures 12 miles (20 kilometers) in height and sits 26 miles (42 kilometers) above the planet’s surface.

Despite its immense size, any wind or rain from the hurricane would not even be felt on the ground, since the heat there is so intense the water would instantly evaporate.

Neptune’s Great Dark Spots

Neptune

Neptune is the most distant planet in our Solar System (sorry Pluto!). For this reason, it is also one of the most mysterious, so when Voyager 2 approached it in 1989, NASA finally had a means to get a good a look at the gas giant.

What it found was the Great Dark Spot, a gargantuan cyclone the size of our planet cutting across Neptune’s southern hemisphere with 1,500 mph (2,400 km/h) winds, the fastest winds ever recorded in our Solar System.

Remarkably, when the Hubble Space Telescope looked at the planet in 1994, the Great Dark Spot seemed to have moved to the northern hemisphere, leading astronomers to believe there’s more than one of these spectacular features.

Saturn’s Dragon Storm

Dragon-Storm

Located within the awesomely named Storm Alley, the (even more awesomely named) Dragon Storm was first photographed by the Cassini spacecraft in 2004 – and it’s a real sight to behold! Spanning over 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers), it is larger the mainland United States and generates lightning bolts thousands of times more powerful than anything seen on Earth.

Though Cassini was the first to take pictures of the Dragon Storm, both Voyagers also detected powerful radio signals from Storm Alley, which suggests the storm has been raging for quite some time now.

The Rare Martian Spiral Storms

Martian-Storms

Mars, our nearest planetary neighbor, has a relatively mild climate compared to the rest of our Solar System. Nevertheless, there are moments when the weather there becomes quite terrifying, as was observed by Hubble in 1999.

A massive storm, displaying at least three bands of clouds rotating counterclockwise in a spiral structure formed above the Martian polar ice caps during the northern hemisphere’s summer season. The storm was four times the size and Texas, with a hurricane-style eye as big as Lake Ontario, but only lasted for about a day before vanishing completely.

Titan’s Soot Storms

Titanian-Dunes

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is a really remarkable celestial body. Almost half the size of Earth, it is the only object in our Solar System known to have stable bodies of surface liquid (in addition to our own planet, of course) and the only satellite known to have an atmosphere.

Within this nitrogen and methane atmosphere, violent winds often turn to all-out storms, which are sometimes so intense they cause soot to rain down to the ground.

Saturn’s Dark Eye

Saturns-Eye

Almost as big as our planet, this huge vortex hovers 20 miles (32 kilometers) above Saturn’s South Pole and, although it looks like a hurricane, it certainly doesn’t behave like one.

For one thing, hurricanes on Earth form over oceans, but Saturn doesn’t have any. They are also constantly moving, however this one seems to be locked in place above the planet’s South Pole.

What makes it even more remarkable is the fact that it has given us clues about Saturn’s inner workings, since the eye of the storm (finally a resemblance to what we see back home!) isn’t covered by any clouds, giving our scientific instruments the chance to see further down into the planet’s atmosphere than ever before.

Jupiter’s Little Red Spot

Oval-Ba

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has been fascinating sky-gazers ever since being discovered in the 17th century. As recently as 2006, astronomers discovered its sibling, known as the Little Red Spot.

It formed during the past few decades as three smaller white spots merged into a single giant storm – quite impressive in scale by earthly standards, though not as big as its more famous companion.

Saturn’s stunning hexagon

Saturns-Hexagon

One of the most awe-inspiring features in the Solar System, not just due to its scale (it could accommodate four planets the size of our own!) but also to its incredibly regular structure.

First discovered in the 1980s, Saturn’s hexagon was still raging in 2006, so it has probably been there for quite some time. Its unique shape can be explained by the existence of multiple bodies of wind rotating around the planet at different speeds, resulting in this amazing formation.

Dust devils of Mars

OK, so dust devils (the smaller siblings of tornados) here on Earth aren’t usually that impressive. But on Mars, with its hot, arid, and relatively calm surface, these things can really thrive and grow to amazing dimensions.

Some dust devils on Mars are known to be 10 times taller and 50 times wider than those we’ve observed on Earth, making them a real threat to the growing fleet of robots roving the Martian landscape.

These diminutive “storms” have even been caught on film, making them the only such phenomena we’ve gotten up close and personal with. Also, a dust devil blew dust and debris from the solar panels of the Spirit rover, providing it with a significant power boost which allowed it to continue its mission.

Bonus – Neptune’s Scooter

Scooter-and-Co.

Neptune is a huge planet (they don’t call it one of the gas giants for nothing), however this gargantuan storm whizzes around it at a neck-breaking 1,200 mph (1,900 km/h), completely encircling it in just 16 hours!

Just like the more famous Great Dark Spots, this storm (appropriately dubbed Scooter) was first observed by Voyager back in 1989, however its origins and how it works still remain a mystery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *