NASA's Cassini Reveals Top-Down View of Saturn's Hexagonal Hurricane [VIDEO]

By Gabrielle Jonas on December 8, 2013 10:59 AM EST

Saturn Hexagonal Hurricane
The hexagonal hurricane on Saturn has been present for decades if not centuries. (Photo: NASA.gov)

Images of a hurricane shaped like none other known in the universe, raging over Saturn's north pole, has been sent back to earth from the Cassini spacecraft, and it's a doozy: It has six sides. The hurricane, dubbed "the hexagon" by NASA, has winds that have been moving at about 322 kilometers (200 miles) per hour for decades — maybe centuries — over Saturn's north pole. The film, released by NASA on Wednesday, offers a new vantage point for the spectacular hurricane: It looks top-down from the pole to about 70 degrees latitude, spanning about 30,000 kilometers (20,000 miles) across. The colorized version of the hexagon film shows a wavy jet stream of winds with a massive, rotating storm at the center.

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On earth, storms are ultimately stopped in their tracks from friction caused by land forms or ice caps, but there are neither on Saturn, which is comprised of gas. The black-and-white version of the film reveals small vortices rotating in the opposite direction of the hexagon. Some of the vortices are swept along with the jet stream as if on a racetrack. The largest of these vortices spans about 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) — about twice the size of the largest hurricane recorded on earth. "There is no weather feature exactly, consistently like this anywhere else in the solar system," Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a press release. "A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades — and who knows —maybe centuries."

The Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004, seven years after it left earth. More vivid and revealing views of the hexagon are available now because the sun is illuminating the interior of Saturn's northern hemisphere. During Saturn's summer solstice in 2017, lighting conditions over its north pole will improve even more, NASA says.

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