Incredible raw image of Saturn's swirling north pole

November 28, 2012 by Jason Major, Universe Today
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Ok, are you ready for this? I know... WOW.

This swirling maelstrom of clouds is what was seen over Saturn's earlier today, November 27, by 's . This is a raw image, acquired in polarized light, from a distance of 238,045 miles (383,097 kilometers)… all I did was remove some of the hot pixels that are commonly found on Cassini images taken with longer exposures.

Again… WOW.

My attempt at a color composite can be seen below, plus another treat:

It's rough, and a little muddy because the clouds were moving between image channels (not to mention the blue channel image was rather underexposed) but here's a color-composite of the same feature, made from images taken from a slightly :

Color composite of Saturn’s north polar vortex. Credit: Jason Major

Pretty darn cool… Cassini does it yet again!

The images above show a central vortex at Saturn's north pole. Saturn is also known to have a long-lived hexagonal jet stream feature around its north pole as well, but that is not shown in those images as it runs along a lower latitude. Instead, you can see that HERE:

Saturn’s northern hexagon. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Captured with wider angle in this image the structure can be made out  as well as the vortex, which sits at the center just over the pole. Saturn's hexagon is about 25,000 km (15,500 miles) in diameter… large enough to fit almost four Earths inside. This image was also acquired today.

An RGB composite of this feature is below:

Saturn’s northern hexagon – color composite. Credit: Jason Major

I'll let this all sink in a bit until more information is available.

Explore further: Swirling vortex and mini moons: Spectacular views of the little things around Saturn

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4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2012
Amazing. Thanks for the images
Anthony Mann
5 / 5 (4) Nov 28, 2012
Great images...
1.2 / 5 (18) Nov 28, 2012
I'm curious how the "standard theory" explains this hexagon, I know other articles have described "perplexing" and "surprising" when discussing the hot poles of Saturn as well.

4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2012
Great use of false color to bring out the swirling clouds! Nice!
5 / 5 (6) Nov 28, 2012
The hexagon feature is simply a consequence of chaotic flow dynamics... and is replicated in other contexts. Spin a bucket of water mixed with motor oil... against the spin of fluid contents going in the reverse direction and gravity will induce the same hexagon structure in the fluid turbulence. My question is about the dynamic features of interactive levels of complexity in Saturn's atmosphere... What structures would host life? If life and consciousness are hosted by physical processes and energy dynamics, then perhaps one might reconsider what we observe in the context of this image study. If this dynamic is "alive", then could it host a form of consciousness? Perhaps it is looking at US...
4 / 5 (4) Nov 28, 2012
I'm curious how the "standard theory" explains this hexagon, I know other articles have described "perplexing" and "surprising" when discussing the hot poles of Saturn as well.


You've done it again.
2 / 5 (4) Nov 29, 2012
Excellent. I guess that the gasses at the pole would be in down-draft?
5 / 5 (3) Nov 29, 2012
large enough to fit almost four Earths inside

The mind boggles.

Wind speeds in that sucker go to about 550km/h. That's about twice as much as the strongest hurricane recorded on Earth.
1.4 / 5 (10) Dec 02, 2012
I'm curious how the "standard theory" explains this hexagon
I dunno if it explains, but such a vortexes http://physicswor...a-bucket routinely.

That's a swell experiment. What do you think confines the vortex? In the experiment it's the bucket, the water reacts to the boundary of the plastic. What provides that mechanism here? I doubt its more atmosphere, denser or faster moving, that wouldn't confine it so dramatically. However, magnetic fields would have no problem doing so, and the plasma that makes up Saturn would most likely react electric and magnetic fields just as we would expect them to.

1.7 / 5 (3) Dec 02, 2012
What provides that mechanism here?
A Corriollis force, I guess. The inertia constrains the rotating atmosphere fluid at place in similar way, like during its stirring in cylindrical vessel.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 03, 2012

The Hexagonal vortex is the result of a standing wave in the vortex boundary.

These kinds of polygonal vortex structures were predicted a century ago, and have been demonstrated in the lab.

Any polygon can be produced, but as the number of sides increase it becomes difficult to distinguish from a circle, and the edges become less stable as a result of fluctuations in the fluid.

I've seen everything from 3 to 6 sides.

You can do 2 sides as well, but it takes the form of an ellipse.
1 / 5 (4) Dec 03, 2012
Remarkable. Those are excellent close up images.

This will encourage young ambitious bio/chem/Geo-engineers to make their own (planets) some day. Avoid the jury where there is a winner for the best design.

And exactly how would one plan to do that? That would take an enormous amount of resources.
4 / 5 (2) Dec 03, 2012
a) It's actually hot enough in the core of it to be habitable?

No. At 550km/h winds there isn't a human structure that would stand a chance, anyhow.

c) If a giant habitable sphere could be made to float inside it?

No. Whatever for?

And I hope you are aware that we are not anywhere near in the business of building 'giant floating spheres' (not on Earth and much less anywhere else. Our off-world construction capabilities are on the order of doll-houses for 2-5 billion dollars a pop for planets with absolutely benign conditions)

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