In 1981 NASA’s Voyager 2 passed by Saturn’s gargantuan hexagonal-shaped hurricane on its North Pole, but due to its observational geometry the probe was unable to capture images of the poles and the mysterious 6-sided weather formation. Fast forward to November 2012 and NASA’s Cassini spacecraft managed to photograph the storm at long last. But even November’s stunning images pale in comparison to the wow factor that Cassini’s most recent flyby delivered.
The outer bands of the hexagon could easily accomodate 4 planet Earths within, and today Popular Science writes on Cassini’s new technicolor close-up of the hurricane’s eye which is approximately the same distance as New York to Havana, Cuba: “[The] eye is 1,250 miles across, more than 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. Just like the hurricanes we know, it spins counterclockwise in the north, it has high clouds forming an eye wall, a central eye with no clouds or very little clouds, and it’s made of water vapor.” Andrew Ingersoll is a Cassini imaging team member at Caltech and he tells Popular Science, “We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth. But there it is at Saturn, on a much larger scale, and it is somehow getting by on the small amounts of water vapor in Saturn’s hydrogen atmosphere.”
Daily Galaxy writes: “Scientists will be studying the hurricane to gain insight into hurricanes on Earth, which feed off warm ocean water. Although there is no body of water close to these clouds high in Saturn’s atmosphere, learning how these Saturnian storms use water vapor could tell scientists more about how terrestrial hurricanes are generated and sustained.”