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Storm slings water to Saturn's surface

First signs of H2O on gas giant rule out surfing, may allow skiing

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Water has been spotted on Saturn for the first time.

Astroboffins believe that gas giants comprise layers of different substances, including water, but lacked substantial evidence to support that theory.

A colossal storm that hit Saturn's northern hemisphere back in 2010 has helped them out, because the Cassini probe was close enough to observe the 15,000 kilometre-wide event. Boffins at the University of Wisconsin have since pored over the data the craft captured.

Their conclusion? The storm dredged a mixture of water ice and ammonia ice from perhaps 200 kilometres below Saturn's surface and spat it out near the surface for Cassini to see. If the boffins' theory is correct, that means Saturn's atmosphere and weather behave a fair bit like Earth's, with the plumes of water ice observed analogous to tall terrestrial thunderclouds.

Scientists assume Jupiter behaves in more or less the same way

Saturn's storms are, however, rather more violent than ours. Boffins now think Saturn may also be more tempestuous than Jupiter, because we've never had a hint of water being dragged into the high atmosphere of the larger gas giant. ®

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