This mesmerising view shows the famous hexagon, located in the clouds surrounding Saturn’s northern pole. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University
The long-lived international NASA/ESA Cassini mission has revealed a surprising feature emerging at Saturn’s northern pole as it nears summertime: a warming, high-altitude vortex with a hexagonal shape, akin to the famous hexagon seen deeper down in Saturn’s clouds. This suggests that the lower-altitude hexagon may influence what happens up above, and that it could be a towering structure spanning hundreds of kilometres in height.
When Cassini arrived at the Saturnian system in 2004, the southern hemisphere was enjoying summertime, while the northern was in the midst of winter. The spacecraft spied a broad, warm, high-altitude vortex at Saturn’s southern pole, but none at the planet’s northern pole.
A new long-term study has now spotted the first glimpses of a northern polar vortex forming high in the atmosphere as Saturn’s northern hemisphere approached summertime. This warm vortex sits hundreds of kilometres above the clouds, in a layer of atmosphere known as the stratosphere, and reveals an unexpected surprise.
“The edges of this newly-found vortex appear to be hexagonal, precisely matching a famous and bizarre hexagonal cloud pattern we see deeper down ...