Saturn’s hexagon


The view over the North Pole of Saturn delivers a spectacular vista.


Still life with hexagon and rings: Saturn’s north pole.
Still life with hexagon and rings: Saturn’s north pole.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

In this photo, taken on April 2 2014, the Cassini spacecraft captured three magnificent sights at once: Saturn’s north polar vortex and hexagon along with its expansive rings.

The hexagon, which is wider than two Earths, owes its appearance to the jet stream that forms its perimeter. The jet stream forms a six-lobed, stationary wave which wraps around the north polar regions at a latitude of roughly 77 degrees North.

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 37 degrees above the plane of the rings. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centred at 752 nanometres. The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 2.2 million kilometres from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 43 degrees. Image scale is 131 kilometres per pixel.


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