This is the newly released 8-frame movie of Saturn’s enigmatic “hexagon.” It is the highest-resolution footage ever acquired of the massive six-sided maelstrom atop the ringed planet’s north pole. Simply gorgeous!
How the system formed, and how it manages to persist (at least three decades – and probably a lot longer than that), remain two of our solar system’s greatest mysteries. To be clear: polar vertices aren’t terribly rare in and of themselves (Earth has one!); what makes Saturn’s system unique is its scale, symmetry and perseverance – though scientists do have some promising leads on the origins of its shape, having reproduced the effect in the lab:
“The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable,” said Andrew Ingersoll, a member of the Cassini imaging team, in a release describing the new footage. “A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades — and who knows — maybe centuries.”
About Saturn’s cloud system
Saturn’s uncannily symmetric cloud system measures roughly 20,000-miles across, and is utterly unique in our solar system. Its dimensions and dynamics are bizarre. At the hexagon’s center whirls a tightly wound hurricane roughly fifty-times larger than the average hurricane-eye on Earth. About it spins an assortment of smaller vortices, caught up in the hexagon’s jet stream, that rotate clockwise, even as the central hurricane, and the outer hexagon, rotate in the opposite direction. These smaller storms are visible in the image above as reddish ovals. The largest of the smaller vortices, appearing white in the lower right corner of the hexagon, spans about 2,200 miles – roughly twice the size of Earth’s largest hurricanes.