Image of the Day: Saturn's hexagonal hurricane

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

The north pole of Saturn plays host to a massive six-sided jet stream that measures 20,000 miles across. Inside, winds blow at 200 miles per hour, fueling a huge central hurricane with little baby hurricanes all over the place. Since there's nothing solid on Saturn to distrup the gas flow that's causing this phenomenon, there's no specific reason why it'll stop being a hexagon anytime soon. We know it's held this shape for at least two decades, and it could possibly have been hexagoning (that's a thing, right?) for a lot longer than that.

This picture, a sort of "top-down" view of the planet, comes from Cassini, and the reason that we're getting such a good look at it right now is that Saturn's axial tilt and orbital location are beginning to combine to shed some sunlight on the north pole directly. Our view will only get better up through 2017, which is Saturn's northern hemisphere summer solstice. We should note, however, that the end-of-life of the Cassini mission itself is also 2017, so a gloriously sunlit gigantic hexagon may be one of the last views we get of Saturn from Cassini.

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