News / Science & Technology

    Stunning Shots Show Saturn's Hexagon Vortex

    The unique six-sided jet stream at Saturn's north pole known as the hexagon taken by NASA's Cassini mission is seen in this still handout image from a movie released on December 4, 2013.
    The unique six-sided jet stream at Saturn's north pole known as the hexagon taken by NASA's Cassini mission is seen in this still handout image from a movie released on December 4, 2013.

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    The U.S. space agency NASA has released stunning video of Saturn’s six-sided vortex, known as the hexagon.

    NASA says the video of the storm that swirls around the top of the giant planet is the first of its kind. It was captured by the Cassini probe.

    The hexagon is a wavy jet stream of 322 kilometer-per hour wind, with a massive storm at its center. The whole thing measures some 30,000 kilometers across. NASA says there is no weather feature exactly, consistently like this anywhere else in the solar system.

    "The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable," said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades -- and who knows -- maybe centuries."

    Weather patterns on Earth are interrupted when they encounter friction from landforms or ice caps. Scientists suspect the stability of the hexagon has something to do with the lack of solid landforms on Saturn, which is essentially a giant ball of gas.

    Better views of the hexagon are available now because the sun began to illuminate its interior in late 2012. Cassini captured images of the hexagon over a 10-hour time span with high-resolution cameras, giving scientists a good look at the motion of cloud structures within.

    Scientists expect to get an even better look at the storm in 2017, when Saturn will enter the summer solstice, which will improve the lighting conditions in the northern hemisphere.

    Here's the video footage:

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