DISCUSSION: Everyday, Earth experiences storms, be it in the form of thunderstorms, hurricanes, or blizzards. It is known that other planets in the solar system experience storms, albeit slightly different from those that occur on Earth. We recently discussed Jupiter and one of its notable atmospheric features, The Great Red Spot. Now, we will take a look at the solar system’s second largest planet: Saturn, with a particular focus on the mystery found at Saturn’s North Pole.
Saturn, the sixth planet from the Sun, best known for its well-defined rings, is one of the most active planets in terms of net storm activity across the solar system. Just like Jupiter, Saturn has large storms orbiting around it, with measured wind speeds higher than those associated with the strongest storms on Earth. At its equator, Saturn has winds which sometimes exceed 1,000 miles per hour, the second highest observed winds on any planet in the solar system. An interesting feature of Saturn is a cloud pattern located at Saturn’s North Pole (which unlike the circular or oval-shaped storms typical on Earth), characterized by a hexagonal shape. Each side of the hexagon is 8,600 miles long (in comparison to Earth’s diameter of roughly 7,900 miles), it has a diameter of roughly 20,000 miles (the spatial area being large enough to fit two Earth-sized planets), and it has a period of roughly 10.5 hours.
The Hexagon was first discovered during the 1981/82 period by the Voyager space program, but it wasn’t studied very much because it wasn’t illuminated by the Sun until 2009. Prior to reanalyzing Saturn’s hexagon feature, Saturn’s hexagon was thought to be a long-lived storm with wind speeds over 200 miles per hour. However, scientists now believe that the hexagon has the characteristics similar to an Earth-like jet stream which propagates around Saturn’s North Pole. Scientists more recently discovered a cyclone towards the center of the hexagon along with an eye approximately 1,250 miles in diameter (i.e., more than 50 times the diameter of typical eye of a hurricane on Earth). Scientists are unsure as to how the hexagon was formed or how long the hexagon will persist, but this feature should certainly provide deeper insight into extraterrestrial cyclones.
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@Meteorologist Noah Hardy