“Just So Science” – The Typhoon Titan and Synthetic Life

By Elf Eldridge 12/07/2011

Saturns Great White Spot - 2010/2011
Saturn's Great White Spot - 2010/2011 (1)

By way of comparison to the abnormal weather we’re experiencing at the moment, I thought I would mention the huge storm that appeared on Saturn last year, the Great White Spot, a single storm almost as big as our entire planet! We’ve observed several smaller such storms on saturn over the past few years, but none have been as large or long-lived as this one. The white colour, distinct from Saturn’s normal golden-cream hue from its helium, is caused by ammonia crystals floating to the top of Saturn’s clouds. As to why this occurred now – we think it’s probably a combination of Saturn’s seasonal springtime heating coupled with it’s current angle to the sun. Regardless, the storm and its tail are pretty spectacular, and certainly puts our little weather woes in perspective…

False Colour images of the storm from above
False Colour images of the storm from above (1)
Diagram of the storm structure
Diagram of the storm structure (3)

In a similar vein (…ok well not exactly) it’s great to hear that DARPA is setting aside $30 Million for synthetic biology research, to turn biological cells into synthetic production factories [4]. Fingers crossed the funding will promote some really groundbreaking research….


1) G.Fisher et al “A giant thunderstorm on Saturn” Nature 475, 75-77 (2011) doi:10.1038/nature10205

2) A. Sanchez-Lavega et al “Deep winds beneath Saturn’s upper clouds from a seasonal long-lived planetary-scale storm” Nature 475, 71-74 (2011) doi:10.1038/nature10203

3) P. Read “Saturn: Storm-clouds brooding on towering heights” Nature 475, 44-45 (2011) doi: 10.1038/475044a

4) E.Pennisi “DARPA Offers $30 Million to Jump-start Cellular Factories” Science 333, 147 (2011) doi:10.1126/science.333.6039.147