If it Wasn’t Already Strange Enough, now Saturn’s Hexagon Storm is Changing Color

Published: 28 Oct , 2016
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Ever since the Voyager 2 made its historic flyby of Saturn, astronomers have been aware of the persistent hexagonal storm around the gas giant’s north pole. This a six-sided jetstream has been a constant source of fascination, due to its sheer size and immense power. Measuring some 13,800 km (8,600 mi) across, this weather system is greater in size than planet Earth.

And thanks to the latest data to be provided by the Cassini space probe, which entered orbit around Saturn in 2009, it seems that this storm is even stranger than previously thought. Based on images snapped between 2012 and 2016, the storm appears to have undergone a change in color, from a bluish haze to a golden-brown hue.

The reasons for this change remain something of a mystery, but scientists theorize that it may be the result of seasonal changes due to the approaching summer solstice (which will take place in May of 2017). Specifically, they believe that the change is being driven by an increase in the production of photochemical hazes in the atmosphere, which is due to increased exposure to sunlight.

 Natural color images taken by NASA's Cassini wide-angle camera, showing the changing appearance of Saturn's north polar region between 2012 and 2016.. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Hampton University

Natural color images taken by NASA’s Cassini wide-angle camera, showing the changing appearance of Saturn’s north polar region between 2012 and 2016.. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Hampton University

This reasoning is based in part on past observations of seasonal change on Saturn. Like Earth, Saturn experiences seasons because its axis is tilted relative to its orbital plane (26.73°). But since its orbital period is almost 30 years, these seasons last for seven years.

Between November 1995 and August 2009, the hexagonal storm also underwent some serious changes, which coincided with Saturn going from its Autumnal to its Spring Equinox. During this period, the north polar atmosphere became clear of aerosols produced by photochemical reactions, which was also attributed to the fact that the northern polar region was receiving less in the way of sunlight.

However, since that time, the polar atmosphere has been exposed to continuous sunlight, and this has coincided with aerosols being produced inside the hexagon, making the polar atmosphere appear hazy. As Linda J. Spilker, the Cassini mission’s project scientist, told Universe Today via email:

“We have seen dramatic changes in the color inside Saturn’s north polar hexagon in the last 4 years.  That color change is probably the result of changing seasons at Saturn, as Saturn moves toward northern summer solstice in May 2017. As more sunlight shines on the hexagon, more haze particles are produced and this haze gives the hexagon a more golden color.”
This diagram shows the main events of Saturn's year, and where in the Saturnian year the Voyager 1 and Cassini missions occurred. Credit: Ralph Lorenz

Diagram showing he main events of Saturn’s year, and where in the Saturnian year the Voyager 1 and Cassini missions occurred. Credit: Ralph Lorenz

All of this has helped scientists to test theoretical models of Saturn’s atmosphere. In the past, it has been speculated that this six-sided storm acts as a barrier that prevents outside haze particles from entering. The previous differences in color – the planet’s atmosphere being golden while the polar storm was darker and bluish – certainly seemed to bear this out.

The fact that it is now changing color and starting to look more like the rest of the atmosphere could mean that the chemical composition of the polar region is now changing and becoming more like the rest of the planet. Other effects, which include changes in atmospheric circulation (which are in turn the result of seasonally shifting solar heating patterns) might also be influencing the winds in the polar regions.

Needless to say, the giant planets of the Solar System have always been a source of fascination for scientists and astronomers. And if these latest images are any indication, it is that we still have much to learn about the dynamics of their atmospheres.

“It is very exciting to see this transformation in Saturn’s hexagon color with changing seasons,” said Spilker. “With Saturn seasons over 7 years long, these new results show us that it is certainly worth the wait.”

 R. G. French (Wellesley College) et al., NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The seasons on Saturn, visualized with images taken by the Hubble Heritage Team. Credit: R. G. French (Wellesley College) et al./NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

It also shows that Cassini, which has been in operation since 1997, is still able to provide new insights into Saturn and its system of moons. In recent weeks, this included information about seasonal variations on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. By April 22nd, 2017, the probe will commence its final 22 orbits of Saturn. Barring any mission extensions, it is scheduled enter into Saturn’s atmosphere (thus ending its mission) on Sept. 15th, 2017.

Further Reading: NASA/JPL/Caltech

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2 Responses

  1. btraymd says:

    Hexagonal storm???? Really? Is that the best that the standard model has to offer? This is a perfect example of how little predictive value the standard model has and how it offers no explanations for easily observed data.
    First….stop thinking gravity is the driving force for the formation of stars. solar systems and galaxies. It is not. Even with the mathematical creation of dark matter to salvage the failed model it still doesn’t work. Ignore the fact that “dark matter” has never been confirmed despite 20 years of intense research and the waste of trillions of research dollars.
    How about applying the known laws of plasma physics and electrical engineering to aid in the interpretation of recent radio telescope data. Case in point is the hexagonal shape observed at the polar region of Saturn (also at Jupiter’s poles as well). This was predicted and is in complete accordance with the model that elucidates massive Birkeland currents entering the poles of the planets within the Sun’s electromagnetic influence. The hexagonal shape of the current (see Donald Scott’s presentation titled “Modelling Birkeland currents”) has been perfectly explained using sound, well documented principles of electrical engineering and reproduced in many plasma physics laboratories (see the SAFIRE Project). Once astrophysicists become well versed with the propagation of charged particles as double layered sheaths of plasma then they will be much less mystified by current radio telescope data.
    The observations made regarding color change are not too difficult to understand. What is color anyway??? Just different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation…..and our brain’s feeble attempt to recognize the difference. The change in color should have given scientists a clue that this was purely an electromagnetic phenomenon. It’s not unlike the beautiful changes in color we witness in the sky at our own poles, known as the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. Kristen Birkeland finally received the Nobel Prize 100 years after recognizing the electric currents that powered this phenomenon. Of course he was ridiculed and ignored for 100 years until satellite data verified his theory. It’s mind boggling that the mainstream today still fails to acknowledge that electromagnetism is the guiding force for star and galaxy formation. Their dedication to dark matter, black holes, neutron stars, dark energy, singularities, the big bang, accretion discs and the idea that gravity can bend light will stand as a monument to the ability of brilliant men to be so stupid. All it takes is the collective decision to ignore certain facts which invalidate their carefully designed theories. For example, gravity cannot possibly affect light since light has no mass. Diffraction easily explains the results Einstein used to create the concept of “gravitational lensing”. Another incorrect concept which is the basis for the big bang is “red shift”. A student of Edwin Hubble that studied at the Max Planck Inst. in Germany with him was a truly gifted radio astronomer and was actually called a “”modern day Gallileo”. His name was Halton Arp. He published years of meticulously collected data in a book titled “Seeing Red”. Carl Sagan commented that if Arp’s work was confirmed it would invalidate the big bang theory and the theory of expansion of the universe. To be brief, Arp’s data suggested that red shift was an intrinsic variable related to age and not reflective of velocity. Recent radio telescopic data supports his findings. Quasars were detected in the same arm of a spiral galaxy with markedly different red shifts….this data was irrefutable and has been ignored, buried and overlooked by mainstream astronomers. But they surely now know the house of cards is about to come tumbling down. I don’t even want to go into the current model of the Sun. It is so pathetic and tragically contradicted by all recent data it is truly embarrassing that any legitimate scientist still supports the model. Nuclear explosions in the core of the sun……really? Oh yea, where else could the neutrinos come from??? Jesus….if this is the best our astrophysicists can come up with we need to take applications from the general public. The lack of understanding of plasma physics and electrical engineering principles in NASA scientists is obvious. This deficit in knowledge has limited their interpretation of recent radio telescope data and left them with ridiculous models that have no predictive value, make no common sense and defy the known laws of physics…..not a good platform.
    For example, they refer to the surface of the sun as comprised of “photospheric granules”….whatever they are. It is mind boggling that their lack of knowledge in plasma physics prevents them from understanding that the surface of the sun consists of Anode Tufts. The SAFIRE Project has perfectly reproduced the findings which confirm this model. It is beyond curious that while knowing the surface of the sun is comprised of plasma and surrounded by powerful magnetic fields that No One is willing to admit it is an electromagnetically driven body. What else could it be??? The problem with acknowledging this obvious fact is that the whole gravity based model of star formation will then need to be discarded. And that means all the funding for pointless research into the gravity based model such as finding dark matter can be discarded as well. This also means the well meaning scientists that have perpetrated the fraud known as the “Standard Model” will be de-funded and ignored by history.

    • Mark Slater says:

      What a fantastic and well written comment. Good to read someones finally standing up to the main stream idiots defending dieing ideas. I would like to add i think that the hexagon atop saturn is more simple than we realise, magnetism has a centripetal vortex which pulls matter closer together, the tighest formation under pressure results in packing atoms into hexagonal close packing or geometric placements, around a single point, this create hexagons in the geology or atmosphere of the planets with a strong enough magnetic core. All planets have hexagons in their north poles geology as can be seen with the naked eye on all of nasas photos 9just look for them). Find a facebook page called electric field lines to see what I mean. Ken wheelers book, ‘uncovering the secrets of magnetism’ explains all we need to figure out what’s going on in all of nature, cosmology and the attempts of particle physics. the mainstream is embarrassed and faulty in all of its conclusions. Ha i laugh at Brian Coxx and his ignorant, arrogant and bigot comments correcting people with his poor knowledge of truth.

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