Hampton University Professor and Team of Planetary Scientists Analyze Unique Images of Saturn
11/10/2016 - #89
Hampton, Va. — Hampton University assistant professor of Planetary Science Dr. Kunio M. Sayanagi is on a mission to learn extreme weather patterns. He and an international team of planetary scientists are doing that by studying Saturn, a gassy planet in our solar system where extreme weather is a common occurrence.
"It has become my favorite planet because there is so much data coming from Saturn," said Dr. Sayanagi. “To make progress, we can either wait for extreme events to happen on earth or we can study extreme events that are already happening on other planets.”
Dr. Sayanagi and members of the imaging team have been analyzing images of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft for years.
In 2012, Saturn’s hexagonal cloud pattern over the north pole appeared blue in the photographs captured by the Cassini spacecraft.
Today, the images show a shade of sunshine gold.
"It is a surprise because the change is so dramatic," said Dr. Sayanagi.
According to Dr. Sayanagi, Saturn is believed to have photochemical smog in the stratosphere.
That happens because of gasses like methane.
When ultraviolet light hits those hydrocarbon molecules, they become aerosol particles which, in turn, creates the yellowish color.
From 1995 to 2009, however, Saturn’s north pole region was in "polar winter darkness."
During which time, the photochemical reactions stopped and the aerosols dissappeared.
The blueish color, in 2012, is believed to be the color of a clear, smog-less sky of Saturn.
The continuous sunshine since 2009 have slowly created enough particles until the sky arond the north pole turned yellow by 2016.
The changing colors, from blue back to its yellowish tint, helps explain the nature of the chemical reactions.
"At a fundamental level, understanding planets is important as it also helps us better understand weather patterns on earth,” said Dr. Sayanagi.
The Cassini mission was conceived in the early 1980’s and launched in 1997, making it one of the longest-operating planetary missions.
"This is the first time any space craft has orbited around a giant planet for that long. The orbiter has been exploring the entire system around saturn including its 60 or so moons,” said Dr. Sayanagi.