Wednesday, March 28, 2007

NASA: Cassini Images Bizarre Hexagon on Saturn

NASA: Cassini Images Bizarre Hexagon on Saturn
Pasadena, Calif. -- An odd, six-sided, honeycomb-shaped feature circling the entire north pole of Saturn has captured the interest of scientists with NASA's Cassini mission.

NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft imaged the feature over two decades ago. The fact that it has appeared in Cassini images indicates that it is a long-lived feature. A second hexagon, significantly darker than the brighter historical feature, is also visible in the Cassini pictures. The spacecraft's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer is the first instrument to capture the entire hexagon feature in one image.

"This is a very strange feature, lying in a precise geometric fashion with six nearly equally straight sides," said Kevin Baines, atmospheric expert and member of Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We've never seen anything like this on any other planet. Indeed, Saturn's thick atmosphere where circularly-shaped waves and convective cells dominate is perhaps the last place you'd expect to see such a six-sided geometric figure, yet there it is."

The word "bizarre" is not inappropriate here.

To me, this is one of those "Psalm 8" moments -- even if a clear explanation is forthcoming, the shape and sheer scale of this object leave me in awe. Hexagons, by the way, are not uncommon in nature; honeycombs and basalt columns come to mind.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

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