What Is This Giant, Swirling Hexagon At Saturn's North Pole?

Something is going on at Saturn's North Pole — something big, swirling, and shaped like a giant hexagon. So just what is it? Carolyn Porco, the leader of Cassini's Imaging Team, explains it to us.


Top Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University

Porco joined us today to take our questions about life on other planets, the ocean on Enceladus, and just what on Earth (or, in this case, not) was going on with Saturn's North Pole, pictures of which were snagged by Cassini's Imaging team.

What we're looking at, says Porco, is actually a phenomenon that we see on Earth as well:

It is very likely nothing more than a highly regular and steady version of our own jet stream, which also has 6 (but sometimes 5, sometimes 7) waves in it. Why? Because any friction within the Saturn atmosphere is WAY lower than that which atmospheric systems encounter here on Earth as they travel over landmasses, oceans, mountains, etc. This is what makes them run down or become discontinuous. To see our own northern hemisphere jet stream, take a look at this video. Now, in your mind's eye, just take out the variations in amplitude and the breaks in the jet, and you'll see what I mean.


And why is it hexagonal?