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Cassini’s Best Look Yet At Saturn’s Crazy Hexagon

Saturn hexagon

This colorful view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is the highest-resolution view of the unique six-sided jet stream at Saturn’s north pole known as “the hexagon.” (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University)

Yes, I said hexagon. If you haven’t heard, our solar system’s second-largest planet has another curious feature besides its sprawling rings; it’s also in possession of an uncannily geometric six-sided jet stream encircling its north pole — at the heart of which lies a churning hurricane-like vortex over 1,800 miles wide. This hexagon has been known about since the days of Voyager, and now NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has presented us with the highest-resolution look yet at this odd atmospheric phenomenon.

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Saturn’s Stunning, Swirling Cyclone

Saturn’s north polar cyclone (NASA/JPL/SSI)

Oh man. It’s stuff like this that got me into space blogging in the first place.

Landing here on Earth last night, this is one of several new raw images from Cassini acquired yesterday (Nov. 27) showing the enormous cyclone of clouds swirling around Saturn’s geographic north pole. The angle of sunlight highlights the multilayered structure of the cyclone and surrounding cloud bands wonderfully… this is a roiling feature approximately 3-4,000 km across and in places appears to carve cloud channels hundreds of kilometers into Saturn’s atmosphere. Simply. Beautiful.

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten such a good look at Saturn’s north pole… over four years ago, I’d say, and in fact one of my very first blog posts here on LITD was of the hexagonal feature ringing Saturn’s northern hemisphere. Thanks to Cassini’s new orbital trajectory, which is taking it high over the ring plane and poles of Saturn, we have the opportunity to view the gas giant’s upper latitudes again.

In fact we even have a brand new look at the hexagon, which is still there, four years later:

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Cassini Peeks at Titan’s Southern Vortex

Color-somposite of Titan (NASA/JPL/SSI/J. Major)

A color-composite image of Titan shows Saturn’s largest moon in true color, including its recently-discovered southern vortex forming above its south pole.

The image was assembled from three raw images acquired on August 28 by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in red, green and blue visible light color channels. The background was extended in size to better frame the moon.

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Titan’s Beautiful, Boiling Southern Vortex

True-color composite image of Titan’s south polar vortex (NASA/JPL/SSI)

Thanks to Cassini’s new vantage point granted by its inclined orbit researchers have gotten a new look at the south pole of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. What they’ve recently discovered is a swirling vortex of gas forming over the moon’s pole, likely the result of the approach of winter on Titan’s southern hemisphere.

Read the rest of this article here.

A Varying Venusian Vortex

Animation of Venus' southern polar vortex made from VIRTIS thermal infrared images; white is cooler clouds at higher altitudes.

Our neighboring planet Venus really is a world of extremes; searing surface temperatures, crushing air pressure, sulfuric acid clouds…Venus pretty much pushes the envelope on every aspect of rocky-planet existence. And now here’s one more thing that made scientists do a double-take: a shape-shifting vortex swirling around Venus’ south pole!

The presence of a cyclonic storm around Venus’ poles – both north and south –  has been known since Mariner 10’s pass in 1974 and then afterwards during the Pioneer Venus mission when a downwardly-spiraling formation of clouds over the planet’s north pole was imaged in infrared. It wasn’t until ESA’s Venus Express orbiter arrived in 2006 that the cyclone at the south pole was directly observed via the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) instrument…and it proved to be much stranger than anything previously expected. Read the rest of this entry

From the LITD Archives: Saturn’s Southern Storm

Originally posted on March 3, 2009:

South Pole Storms

Saturns South Pole Storm (south faces up in this image)

A great spiraling whirlpool of wind-whipped clouds wraps around Saturn’s southern pole, photographed here in polarized infrared light by Cassini on July 15, 2008. Towering white clouds mark areas of rising heat from deep within the atmosphere. The winds around the vortex have been measured at over 300 mph.

This photo shows an area over 3,000 miles (4828 km) wide.

Using special filters the cloud structures and wind patterns of Saturn become visible, showing the incredible ferocity of its atmosphere. In visible wavelenghts Saturn appears rather calm and smooth but viewed in another light its true nature is seen:

Thanks to the special camera filters aboard the Cassini orbiter Saturn’s cloud layers can be pierced for further study…there’s still so much to be learned about the ringed planet!

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Read on LightsInTheDark.com

Saturn’s Southern Cyclone

South Pole Storms

South Pole Storms

A great spiraling whirlpool of wind-whipped clouds wraps around Saturn’s southern pole, photographed here in polarized infrared light by Cassini on July 15, 2008. Towering white clouds mark areas of rising heat from deep within the atmosphere. The winds around the vortex have been measured at over 300mph.

This photo shows an area over 3,000 miles wide.

Using special filters the cloud structures and wind patterns of Saturn become visible, showing the incredible ferocity of its atmosphere. In visible wavelenghts Saturn appears rather calm and smooth but viewed in another light its true nature is seen:

Thanks to the special camera filters aboard the Cassini-Huygens orbiter, Saturn’s cloud layers can be pierced for further study. There’s still much to be learned about the ringed planet.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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