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Saturn’s Hexagonal Storm

February 16, 2017

Planetary scientists puzzle over a strange, hexagon on Saturn.

Transcript

Saturn_north_polar_vortex_false_colorNASAJPL-CaltechSSI

A false color image of Saturn’s hexagonal north polar storm. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Saturn’s hexagon hurricane. I’ m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

On Earth, storms form as circular spirals. The giant red spot on Jupiter is an ellipse. But on the north pole of the planet Saturn is the strangest shaped storm scientists have ever seen: a hexagon as wide as four earths.

BETSY PUGEL (NASA):

And it’s really dramatic looking. It looks like something that could be artificially made, but it’s not.

HIRSHON:

That’s NASA physicist Betsy Pugel. She says the hexagon has an enormous hurricane at its center, with 200 mile per hour winds. Scientists trying to model the storm in the lab using liquids in tanks have found that rotating the center of the tank at a different speed than the outside edge can form hexagonal patterns. But Pugel says they’ll need more information about conditions on Saturn to know just what forces are at play to create its six-sided storm. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the Science Society.

Story by Bob Hirshon