NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured a stunning new image of Saturn’s north pole that highlights not only the planet's famous rings, but also a swirling, strangely hexagonal storm brewing in its atmosphere.
The odd hexagonal vortex is thought to be about 20,000 miles in diameter, and is essentially a jet stream of 200 mph winds that surround a giant storm, according to NASA officials.
"The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable," Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology, said in a statement. "A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades — and who knows — maybe centuries."
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Space agency officials said no weather feature they’ve yet discovered in the solar system resembles Saturn’s storm, which they believe may be so long-lasting because of Saturn’s lack of land mass, which normally serves to disrupt wind currents. Saturn’s entirely gaseous form prevents this type of calming effect, according to NASA.
The Cassini spacecraft has been sending back images of Saturn since its arrival at the planet in 2004, and was originally launched in 1997. It will be expected to collect data until at least 2017, at which point it will burn up in the ringed planet’s atmosphere.