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One of the largest storms ever seen on Saturn may have been a victim of its own success, choking when it ate its own tail.
The “Great Springtime Storm” was a colossal maelstrom that raged on Saturn for a record-breaking 267 days during 2010 and 2011. The storm was so vast that it wrapped itself around the planet’s Northern Hemisphere, allowing the storm’s head to encounter its own tail. Even after the storm’s death, the planet continued to feel its effects when it generated the largest and hottest vortex ever seen in the solar system. Scientists had a spectacular front-row seat for the entire storm with NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which gathered invaluable data about the event.
New research suggests that the storm’s Ouroboros-like consumption of itself may have been its undoing since the maelstrom sputtered out at roughly the same time as the head met the tail, according to a paper in the journal Icarus that appeared on January 10. This is the first time that scientists have ever watched a storm consume itself in this way, but the team is at a loss to explain exactly why the tail-meets-head scenario would have caused the storm’s demise.