This animation was assembled using images from the Cassini spacecraft and is the highest-resolution view of the unique six-sided jet stream at Saturn’s north pole known as “The Hexagon.” It shows a complete view from the north pole down to about 70 degrees north latitude. The images have been rotated to account for the spin of the planet so that the point of view is as if we were in space above Saturn and rotating on its axis with it.
There is a wide variety of cloud structures within The Hexagon, including a massive hurricane tightly centered on the north pole, with an eye about 50 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. There are numerous small vortices which show up as reddish ovals. Some of these vortices spin clockwise while The Hexagon and central hurricane spin counterclockwise. Some are swept along with the jet stream of The Hexagon. The biggest of these vortices, seen near the lower right, spans about 3,500 kilometers, roughly twice the size of the largest hurricane on Earth.
This is a false color movie in which different wavelengths of light from ultraviolet to visible to infrared have been assigned colors to enhance the contrast between the types of atmospheric particles inside and outside The Hexagon. On the inside there are fewer large haze particles and a concentration of small haze particles. Outside The Hexagon, the reverse is true. The jet stream that makes up the structure seems to act like a barrier, which results in something like the “ozone hole” in the Antarctic on Earth.
The Hexagon is an amazingly stable structure. Storms on Earth die out because of friction with the solid surface of the planet. Saturn is a gas giant. As summer returns to the its northern hemisphere, we will be watching for changes in The Hexagon.
Image Credit: NASA