On Nov. 23, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft took a snapshot of the ringed gas giant Saturn, capturing a beautiful portrait of the planet’s mysterious hexagon.
During its 1.6 million mile (2.5 million kilometer) orbital pass over Saturn’s north pole (at an angle of 43 degrees off the planet’s ring plane), the mission used its wide-angle camera with a spectral filter that only allows a very specific wavelength of light through. At near-infrared wavelengths, Cassini was able to pick out some beautiful fine detail in the Saturnian cloud tops.
Saturn’s hexagon was first discovered by the Voyager 2 probe in 1981 and then re-imaged in 2006 by Cassini. Planetary scientists have noted that the hexagon rotates with the planet’s core and is likely a long-duration jet stream embedded in the planet’s upper atmosphere. Although Saturn’s south pole does not possess a hexagon jet stream, it does sport a violent vortex, just as the planet’s north pole has in the center of the hexagon.
Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, exploring the ringed jewel of the solar system including its system of 62 moons.