After waiting years for the sun to illuminate Saturn’s north pole again, cameras aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have captured the most detailed images yet of the intriguing hexagon shape crowning the planet.
The new images of the hexagon, whose shape is the path of a jet stream flowing around the north pole, reveal concentric circles, curlicues, walls and streamers not seen in previous images.
The last visible-light images of the entire hexagon were captured by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft nearly 30 years ago, the last time spring began on Saturn. After the sunlight faded, darkness shrouded the north pole for 15 years. Much to the delight and bafflement of Cassini scientists, the location and shape of the hexagon in the latest images match up with what they saw in the Voyager pictures.
“The longevity of the hexagon makes this something special, given that weather on Earth lasts on the order of weeks,” said Kunio Sayanagi, a Cassini imaging team associate at the California Institute of Technology. “It’s a mystery on par with the strange weather conditions that give rise to the long-lived Great Red Spot of Jupiter…”
“Now that we can see undulations and circular features instead of blobs in the hexagon, we can start trying to solve some of the unanswered questions about one of the most bizarre things we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” Baines said. “Solving these unanswered questions about the hexagon will help us answer basic questions about weather that we’re still asking about our own planet.”
Questions, of course, that will be answered by scientists committed to knowledge, research – rather than paid Exxon flacks and their acolytes.