In November, NASA released some incredible composite photographs of Saturn taken from the Cassini spacecraft. In some of the images, you can see streams of liquid erupting from the planet.
This week, NASA has topped that with its most detailed movie of the “hexagon jet stream” erupting from the ringed planet, creating a giant storm that might be hundreds of years old.
The movie shows a complete view of the top of Saturn. And in the middle of it all is the hexagon, a giant 20,000-mile-wide jet stream of winds racing at 200 mph.
It’s a storm that NASA says truly stands alone in the entire 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 member of the Cassini imaging team in Pasadena, Calif. "A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades — and who knows — maybe centuries."
You can see more images of the storm on NASA’s Cassini hangout page.
NASA says some parts of the storm, known as vortices, cover 2,200 miles, making them twice as big as any known hurricane in Earth’s history. While no one knows for sure, NASA says it believes the giant storm has managed to stay active for so long because Saturn does not have any substantial landmass that could cause the weather pattern to die out.
Cassini first arrived near Saturn in 2004, and its mission is scheduled to end in 2017. However, NASA says the timing is perfect as the planet’s summer solstice occurs during that timeframe and should give Cassini its best views of the storm.
"As we approach Saturn's summer solstice in 2017, lighting conditions over its north pole will improve, and we are excited to track the changes that occur both inside and outside the hexagon boundary," Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.
- Nature & Environment