DPS 35th Meeting, 1-6 September 2003
Session 45. Outer Planets/Gas Giants I
Oral, Chair: R. A. West, Saturday, September 6, 2003, 10:30am-12:00noon, DeAnza I-II

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[45.09] Dynamical variability in Saturn Equatorial Atmosphere

A. Sánchez-Lavega, S. Pérez-Hoyos, R. Hueso, J. F. Rojas (Universidad País Vasco), R. G. French (Wellesley College), Grupo Ciencias Planetarias Team

Historical ground-based and recent HST observations show that Saturn's Equatorial Atmosphere is the region where the most intense large-scale dynamical variability took place at cloud level in the planet. Large-scale convective storms (nicknamed the ``Great White Spots") occurred in 1876, 1933 and 1990. The best studied case (the 1990 storm), produced a dramatic change in the cloud aspect in the years following the outburst of September 1990. Subsequently, a new large storm formed in 1994 and from 1996 to 2002 our HST observations showed periods of unusual cloud activity in the southern part of the Equator. This contrast with the aspect observed during the Voyager 1 and 2 encounters in 1980 and 1981 when the Equator was calm, except for some mid-scale plume-like features seen in 1981. Cloud-tracking of the features have revealed a dramatic slow down in the equatorial winds from maximum velocities of ~ 475 m/s in 1980-1981 to ~ 275 m/s during 1996-2002, as we have recently reported in Nature, Vol. 423, 623 (2003). We discuss the possibility that seasonal and ring-shadowing effects are involved in generating this activity and variability.

Acknowledgements: This work was supported by the Spanish MCYT PNAYA 2000-0932. SPH acknowledges a PhD fellowship from the Spanish MECD and RH a post-doc fellowship from Gobierno Vasco. RGF was supported in part by NASA's Planetary Geology and Geophysics Program NAG5-10197 and STSCI Grant GO-08660.01A.

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