What is the Saturn hexagon?

anomaly on saturn

The universe continues to intrigue people who investigate it. Stars, meteor showers and other similar astronomical events are of great attraction to scientists. However, there is one of the most intriguing enigmas of our solar system. Its about Saturn's polar hexagon.

In this article we are going to tell you what the Saturn hexagon is, its origin and characteristics.

What is the hexagon of Saturn

the hexagon of saturn

The hexagon, a unique feature found only within our solar system and specifically on Saturn, is a phenomenon due to the planet's unique pole. While the information collected by Cassini has greatly expanded our understanding of Saturn as a whole, unraveling the enigma behind this peculiar formation within the gas-filled atmosphere remains a challenging task.

The recent discovery we are discussing is unlike the countless stars and planets that were observed during the heyday of astronomy. It remained hidden from view due to the limitations of the instruments available in previous centuries. It wasn't until the 1980s, when the Voyager probes were deployed, that researchers stumbled upon a fascinating phenomenon: a hexagonal structure surrounding the north pole at -78 degrees. The importance of this discovery is emphasized by R. Morales-Juberías, KM Sayanagi, AA Simon, LN Fletcher and RG Cosentino in their 2015 publication, which we will delve into later for a comprehensive understanding.

Approximately 1993, the existence of this formation was officially verified through visual evidence captured by the Hubble telescope. However, it was the esteemed Cassini probe that provided us with the most impressive images, along with valuable data on this phenomenon. Interestingly, it was during the probe's approach to Saturn, where it would ultimately meet its demise, that it first presented us with thermal images that vividly illustrated the intensity of the events occurring at the planet's north pole.

Discovery and reflections

saturn hexagon

When the discovery was made, the existence of this formation (which, as we know, has remained unchanged for more than 30 Earth years) was reflected upon. The challenge we face is that Saturn is very far away, and It remains to be seen who will dare to venture into that hell and return with stories of what lies within.

However, there are always computer models available to provide answers in situations like this. A group of scientists, including Ana C. Barbosa Aguiar, Peter L. Read, Robin D. Wordsworth, Tara Salter and Y. Hiro Yamazaki, seemed to be on the verge of unraveling the mystery behind the peculiar hexagon. In their 2010 publication, they presented a theory suggesting that the hexagonal shape is created in regions where Saturn's atmospheric winds exhibit a significant change in speed at different latitudes.

A wide range of geometric shapes, including triangles, octagons and especially hexagons, were observed in formations within an area of ​​turbulent flow where two fluids with different rotation speeds interacted. However, these formations did not occur when the velocity viscosity did not exceed a specific threshold, which explains its absence at the south pole of Saturn and other gas giants.

Studies about the hexagons of Saturn

saturn hexagon

The model developed by the Morales-Juberías team demonstrated the greatest resemblance to the observed properties of the hexagon, as the researcher explained to Space.com. This included factors such as phase velocities, wind patterns, cloud formations and temperature gradient along the meridional axis that are associated with the hexagonal shape.

The verifications carried out by this group provide substantial evidence in favor of the hypothesis that the baroclinic model is responsible for the presence of the hexagonal shape on Saturn. Using numerical computer simulations, they have successfully replicated the key features of this phenomenon, as discussed above.

The computer simulations carried out by the Morales-Juberías team stand out for being the most precise in reproducing the key characteristics of the phenomenon that are currently known.

Baroclinic waves, like barotropic waves, are a category of planetary waves or Rossby waves that manifest as oscillations in the oceans and atmospheres. Naukas provides a full explanation of the disparity between these two types: Barotropic waves remain constant in the vertical dimension, while baroclinic waves exhibit variation in this direction. (and have a slower rotation speed compared to barotropic waves). It is widely speculated that the hexagon phenomenon is attributed to baroclinic waves.

According to the model developed by the team, a significant air current creates a curved trajectory that moves eastward in the vicinity of Saturn's north pole, traversing the upper regions of the atmosphere. Simultaneously, a hexagonal formation emerges below, resulting from the intersection of crosswinds with the primary airflow, as wind speed decreases. This captivating structure, reminiscent of a Van Gogh masterpiece, It stretches for an impressive 30.000 kilometers and continues to captivate researchers with its enigmatic nature.

Cassini Information

Saturn's hexagon is an impressive set of exceptionally fast winds, exceeding speeds of 300 kilometers per hour. Remarkably, each side of this geometric shape extends for approximately 13.800 kilometers in length, exceeding the diameter of the Earth's equator of 12.756 kilometers. Within its expansive diameter of 30.000 kilometers, You can find a lot of clouds and swirling formations. While it may not possess the same level of prominence as Jupiter's Spot, the hexagon also features a distinctive Great Anticyclone, which was first documented in the 1980s.

As mentioned above, Cassini has provided us with a wealth of new data and incredible images. When we talk about space telescopes, we discovered that different observations could be made depending on the wavelengths they captured. In the case of Cassini, it was equipped with infrared (VIMS and CIRS) and ultraviolet (UVIS) spectrometers, which thoroughly examined a total of 352 wavelengths. These ranged between 0,35 and 5,1 micrometers for VIMS, 7 micrometers to 1 millimeter for CIRS and 55,8 to 190 nanometers for UVIS.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about what the Saturn hexagon is and its characteristics.

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