Stargate? A Weird Hexagon-Shaped Vortex is Swirling Above Saturn's North Pole

Wednesday, 05 September 2018 - 2:28PM
Space
Wednesday, 05 September 2018 - 2:28PM
Stargate? A Weird Hexagon-Shaped Vortex is Swirling Above Saturn's North Pole
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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University
NASA's Cassini spacecraft ended its 20-year run back in September of 2017, but not before delivering some pretty bizarre data that will have scientists talking for years to come. One of the more recent discoveries, according to LiveScience, is a weird six-sided vortex spotted circling high above the Saturn's clouds. This is the second time a hexagonal warm polar vortex has been seen near the planet's north pole, and researchers are not sure what it means.


Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University

"The edges of this newly-found vortex appear to be hexagonal, precisely matching a famous and bizarre hexagonal cloud pattern we see deeper down in Saturn's atmosphere," said Leigh Fletcher, lead author of a study recently published in Nature Communications. He added in a statement that "either a hexagon has spawned spontaneously and identically at two different altitudes, one lower in the clouds and one high in the stratosphere, or the hexagon is in fact a towering structure spanning a vertical range of several hundred kilometers." The first vortex was spotted back in the 1980s by NASA's Voyager. The Cassini probe attempted to take a closer look at the weird hexagon and to get more data years ago when it was winter in the planet's northern hemisphere, but its Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) could not get reliable measurements due to the -252F temperatures.

"One Saturnian year spans roughly 30 Earth years, so the winters are long," explained study co-author Sandrine Guerlet. "Saturn only began to emerge from the depths of northern winter in 2009 and gradually warmed up as the northern hemisphere approached summertime." Finally able to get a closer look, the probe spotted the second vortex and was able to make out the hexagonal edges, which were unlike the circular edges on a vortex previously seen at the south pole.

The differences in the shapes of the vortices has the researchers thinking that maybe Saturn's poles are asymmetrical, or that the north pole vortex was in an earlier stage of development at the time that Cassini snapped its photo. More information is needed, but either way it's pretty damn weird and we're glad it's forming over Saturn and not Earth.
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