Thursday, September 6, 2018

Hexagon Feature Discovered Forming Over Saturn's North Pole

Article Written By: Kyle Tam


  According to a new long-term study of Saturn using data collected by the Cassini spacecraft, a warming, high-altitude vortex with a hexagonal shape has been caught developing in the north pole of Saturn as its northern hemisphere approaches summer. This mirrors the strange hexagon vortex observed at the planet's southern pole during its southern summer.
  At first undetected by Cassini due to the extreme cold temperatures of Saturn's northern hemisphere during winter, the vortex was later observed as it warmed increasingly quickly. This suggests that the lower-altitude hexagon may influence what happens up above, and that it could span hundreds of kilometres in height.
   "One way that wave 'information' can leak upwards is via a process called evanescence, where the strength of a wave decays with height but is just about strong enough to still persist up into the stratosphere," explained Leigh Fletcher from the University of Leicester. "We simply need to know more. It's quite frustrating that we only discovered this stratospheric hexagon right at the end of Cassini's lifespan."  "While we did expect to see a vortex of some kind at Saturn's north pole as it grew warmer, its shape is really surprising. 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 kilometres."

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