New Cassini infrared images of Saturn have revealed one of its strangest features – a bizarre six-sided cloud structure circling the entire north pole. This structure was hinted at when the Voyager spacecraft first visited the planet more than 20 years ago, but the new images from Cassini really show the structure in detail.
This cloud structure is similar to the Earth’s polar vortices, but instead of being circular, the clouds have build up this hexagonal shape. The hexagon extends much deeper than scientists previously believed, reaching 100 km (60 miles) below the cloud tops. Whatever this feature is, it’s only at the north pole. The south pole has a large storm, but it looks more like a hurricane with a giant eye.
Cassini hadn’t been able to image Saturn’s north pole until now because it was in winter in that area. This image was taken in the infrared spectrum, so it’s just variations in heat. Just like the Earth’s north pole, the region doesn’t see sunlight for a long time; in Saturn’s case, it takes 15 years of darkness. Saturn is moving out of its winter, now, and the region should be visible to Cassini’s other instruments.
Why has this cloud shape formed? That’s still a mystery.
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Original Source: NASA/JPL/SSI News Release