Hampton University
Hampton University Professor Part of Team Studying Severe Weather on Saturn to Better Understand Storms on Earth
11/05/2019 - #101

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HAMPTON, Va. (Nov. 5, 2019) — Kunio Sayanagi, associate professor in the Hampton University Department of Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, is a part of a team of researchers whose latest study of stormy weather on Saturn has been published in “Nature Astronomy,” a leading international weekly journal of science.

“Congratulations to Dr. Sayanagi and the team of researches on their findings and publication in ‘Nature Astronomy,’” said Hampton University President, Dr. William R. Harvey. “Their research on Saturn provides scientists with invaluable information on the creation of severe storms here on Earth which will ultimately allow the public to be more informed and overall safer from severe weather.”    

The main discovery discussed in the paper is that Sayanagi and his colleagues revealed a new class of storms on Saturn -- most storms on Saturn are either small and short-lasting, or enormous eruption that engulfs an entire latitude band. This new storm is of a rare in-between size, and it was associated with a long-lived vortex. It was the first time a bright storm erupted out of a long-lived (and presumably stable) vortex. The team carefully examined the motion of the vortex from which the storm erupted between 2016 and 2017 to show that the vortex was stable before the eruption of the storm.

Extreme storms on Saturn create a window of opportunity to refine fundamental understanding of how large storms form and evolve. Researching weather on other planets in our solar system contribute in refining weather forecasts on Earth in the future. Atmospheric scientists learn a great deal from the study of weather on other planets because the same physics governs these storms on all planets, and we can learn how these "weather events" work under extreme conditions.

“These extreme storms on Saturn are interesting because they attain intensity, size and duration that are never possible on Earth,” said Sayanagi. “Even the intermediate-scale storm that is revealed in this paper is much greater in size and intensity than the most intense hurricane on Earth. Progress in scientific understanding is often made by studying extreme conditions that challenge our current understanding. To study extreme events, we can either wait for extreme events to happen here on Earth, or we can continue looking elsewhere in the solar system and the universe.”

Dr. Sayanagi was an affiliate member of NASA's Cassini imaging science team until 2017, and was able to see the vortex evolution first hand as the data was sent from Saturn. The Cassini Mission ended in September 2017 when the spacecraft was deliberately crashed into Saturn when its fuel ran out. Even though the spacecraft is no longer in orbit around Saturn, the mission left a wealth of data that are yet to be analyzed, and scientists continue to gain new understanding of Saturn as well as its rings and moons today.

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