The huge hexagonal vortex at planet Saturn’ north pole has been puzzling scientists for decades. Now, researchers at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology claim that they may have a theory on how the gigantic cloud hexagon formed.
The weird pattern was first spotted by NASA scientists in the late 1980s while they were sifting through the data collected by the space agency’s Voyager spacecraft during its historic flybys of the second-largest planet in our solar system.
But the cloud pattern was finally confirmed by Cassini orbiter during a recent close flyby of the planet. NASA scientists suggested that they have never seen a similar pattern on any of the other worlds they studied so far.
The 20,000 mile-wide hexagonal vortex has a never-ending storm at its center, and it goes as low as 60 miles into the planet’s atmosphere. Past studies had suggested a multitude of theories to explain the origin of the strange phenomenon.
Some scientists likened the hexagon with the patterns one gets when swirling water inside a bucket. When that happens whirlpools dotted with holes of geometric shape emerge but no one recalls seeing a giant water bucket around Saturn’s north pole.
The data gathered by NASA’s two missions provide some clues on how the cosmic whirlpool may have formed. For instance, the six corners of the hexagon spin around its core at the same rate the gas giant revolves around its axis. Additionally, a jet stream flows along the bizarre shape’s outline at speeds of 220 mph.
Recently a group of researchers disclosed that they were able to design a computer model that could provide an explanation to the hexagonal vortex.
“With a very simple model, we have been able to match many of the observed properties of the hexagon,”
noted Raúl Morales-Juberías, lead author of the findings and researcher at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.
The computer model showed that the said jet stream was flowing in a circular trajectory around the planet’s north pole, while interfering permanent air currents gave it the odd hexagonal form we see in Saturn imagery. Scientists were able to confirm their theory by pushing the computerized hexagonal vortex to speeds close to the real one.
Scientists explained that the odd shaped is caused by shallow air currents at the cloud level, while strong air currents bellow the cloudy area help those jets maintain the hexagonal form and control the speed rate at which the vortex spins.
Image Source: Wikipedia