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Saturn discovery

Monday, 12th February, 2018

By Kara de Groot

Broken Hill astronomer Trevor Barry has had his work included in an international science journal, thanks to his tireless efforts examining the planet Saturn.

Mr Barry’s discovery of a ‘rift’, a massive storm in Saturn’s northern hemisphere, was instrumental in understanding how a triple vortex formed on the planet, and how it continues. 

“The triple vortex, which I’ve also tracked for several years, is unique,” Mr Barry said.

“It an anti-cyclone, cyclone, anti-cyclone, coupled together; they’ve survived for a long time but no one has really worked out what sustains that, and how they formed in the first place,” he said.

“There’s nothing like that triple vortex anywhere else on the planet.”

Luckily for Mr Barry’s fellow astronomers, he identified and watched a massive rift occur at the end of May in 2015, and it’s believed that rift may have helped create and sustain the triple vortex.

Once Mr Barry made overseas colleague Professor Agustin Sanchez-Lavega aware of the phenomenon, the astrophysicist applied for time on the Hubble telescope to get further images of the event.

“He got three orbits of the Hubble telescope, and it got stunning data and images, it’s marvellous what you can do with a billion dollar telescope floating above the earth’s atmosphere,” Mr Barry said.

“Cassini was still operational then so it got some as well, but right there in the paper with the images from those machines, is my image,” he said.

“How good is that, Broken Hill, and my name, are listed along with top planetary scientists and world-renowned sites, I love that.

“My pictures don’t look out of place at all next to the Hubble and Cassini data, the quality stands up really well.”

Mr Barry described the rift he discovered as a massive storm coming from deeper within the planet.

He and his fellow astronomers think it was caused by convection from deep down in Saturn’s atmosphere, causing a massive upwelling of the gases that form the planet.

“I just love that I was the one to discover this rift and track it as it shifted and as the planet rotated,” Mr Barry said.

“This gives us a better understanding of Saturn’s atmospheric dynamics.

“Saturn is a gas giant with a diameter of 120,000km, its atmosphere is crazy.”

Mr Barry’s image featured in the article ‘A planetary-scale disturbance in a long living three vortex coupled system in Saturn’s atmosphere’, which is in edition 302 of Icarus.

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