A new study has suggested that the weird hexagon swirling around Saturn’s north pole is much taller than scientists had ever thought.
Till now researchers have regarded the 20,000-mile-wide (or 32,000 kilometers) hexagon — a jet stream composed of air moving at about 200 mph (or 320 km/h) — as a lower-atmosphere phenomenon which is restricted to the clouds of Saturn’s troposphere. However, a new study suggests that the bizarre structure extends actually about 180 miles (o 300 km) above those cloud tops, up into the stratosphere, at least during the northern spring and summer.
The hexagon, which surrounds a smaller circular vortex is situated at the north pole. It seems to have existed for at least 38 years now. NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts had spotted the sharp-cornered feature when they flew by Saturn in 1980 and 1981, respectively.
When NASA’s Cassini spacecraft began orbiting the ringed plane in the year 2004, scientists started getting a much more detailed look at the hexagon. However, Cassini’s hexagon observations were very much confined to the troposphere for a decade after its arrival, springtime did not come to Saturn’s north until 2009, and low temperatures in the stratosphere continued to compromise measurements by the probe’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument for another five more years.
Study co-author Sandrine Guerlet of the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique in France, said in a statement from the European Space Agency (ESA) that they were able to make use of the CIRS instrument to find out more about the northern stratosphere for the first time from the year 2014 onwards.
These observations have been newly analyzed now and they revealed a very big surprise: the presence of a very familiar shape higher above the clouds.
Guerlet added that the polar vortex became more and more visible, and they noticed it had hexagonal edges, and realized that they were seeing the pre-existing hexagon at much higher altitudes than they had previously ever thought.
The research team wrote in the new study, that the formation of the stratospheric hexagon appears to be because of the warming brought on by the change of seasons. Well, the Cassini spied a vortex high above the south pole during its early years at Saturn, when that hemisphere was enjoying scotching summer. One should note that the planet Saturn takes around thirty Earth years to orbit the sun. So seasons on the ringed planet last about seven and a half years apiece. That is quite a lot.