Cassini Photo: Stunning New Views of Saturn’s Hexagon Storm

NASA this week released the highest-resolution view yet of the unique, six-sided jet stream circling Saturn’s north pole—known as “the hexagon.” This movie (click image to run), made from images obtained by Cassini’s imaging cameras, is the first to show the hexagon in color filters. Credit: NASA

NASA has released this week the best views yet of a bizarre hexagon-shaped cloud that blankets Saturn’s north polar region, courtesy of the Cassini spacecraft. 

First seen by the Voyager probe during its flyby in the early 1980s, this six-sided weather system stretches 15,000 miles (25,000 kilometers) across and contains storms of various sizes, including a distinct vortex that appears to sit directly over the planet’s north pole.

“A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades—and who knows—maybe centuries,” said Andrew Ingersoll, Cassini team scientist

Packing winds clocked at 200 miles (322 kilometers) per hour, planetary scientists believe the hexagon—unique amongst all the planets in the solar system—is a wavy jet stream.

“The hexagon is just a current of air,” said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in a press statement, “and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable.”

Unlike Earth, where landforms disrupt weather patterns, Saturn is a gas giant. That means jet streams like the hexagon can whirl around the planet unimpeded for long periods of time.

Saturn's north polar hexagon basks in the Sun's light in this image taken November 2012. Many smaller storms dot the north polar region and Saturn's signature rings, which appear to disappear on account of Saturn's shadow, put in an appearance in the background. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Saturn’s hexagon basks in the sun’s light in this image taken November 2012. Many smaller storms dot the planet’s north polar region while Saturn’s signature rings put in an appearance in the background (top, right). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

But the hexagon’s staying power is a boon for researchers. The oddly-shaped jet stream’s persistence allowed the Cassini spacecraft to take advantage of favorable light angles—as the gas giant’s northern hemisphere tilted more toward the sun in 2012, light was able to illuminate more areas of Saturn’s north pole.

This enabled cameras onboard Cassini to capture multiple frames over a ten-hour period, allowing scientists to stitch together a movie (click on first picture to see) clearly showing the motion of cloud structures within the hexagon.

The largest of the hurricane-like vortices rotating in the opposite direction of the hexagon spans about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) across, or about twice the size of the largest hurricane recorded on Earth, says NASA.

What looks like a ed rose is actually the hurricane-like storm sitting over the north pole of Saturn as seen by Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA
What looks like a red rose is actually the hurricane-like storm sitting over Saturn’s north pole as seen by the Cassini spacecraft in November 2012. Credit: NASA

While these images are jaw-dropping, the best may be yet to come, say NASA scientists.

“As we approach Saturn’s summer solstice in 2017, lighting conditions over its north pole will improve, and we are excited to track the changes that occur both inside and outside the hexagon boundary,” said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.


Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Rosa R Garcia

    Divine, I remain mouth open,with so much mystery thanks for the view,

  • crapplejack

    wonder if there is a microscopic black hole at the center of that…

  • Bi Den

    This image is evidence that Saturn and its rings are artificially created objects. Or evidence of Gods existence. Or devils. Or both.

  • Rhonda Brantley

    AWE INSPIRING…….credit goes to JAH!

  • Siri Perera

    Wonderful !

  • Cherry

    This has nothing to do with God. This has to do with what our own Cassini has captured of another planet, Saturn. Please do your scientific research. A man made scope sent to our solar system, by man. No One Else. Saturn, and other planets even those OUTSIDE of our solar system have been here for billions of years, long before “MAN” thought up the Idea …..of a god and or gods. This is one of the best shots ever of the Pole; it’s Hexagon and the storms within Saturn’s atmosphere.

  • anne taleff

    Exciting! Thank you so much!

  • Terrence

    So any theories on why the hexagon shape formed?

  • Chris Phillips

    How can a storm be hexagonal? “The hexagon is just a current of air,” – are you kidding, Andrew???
    For many years researchers studying the issue have known that beams of electricity flowing through plasma produce a central column surrounded by concentric cylinders. The cylindrical current filaments exhibit long-range attraction and short-range repulsion braiding that result in evenly spaced vortices surrounding the column. As the filaments rotate around one another, a preferred hexagonal cross-section forms within the innermost column. Hexagonal craters can be seen etched into the surfaces of planets and moons. Weather patterns, such as hurricanes on Earth, also exhibit hexagonal “eyes” that defy conventional explanation.

    The hexagon at Saturn’s north pole is another example of electrical activity in the Solar System on a tremendous scale. Electricity moves along charged Birkeland current filaments that electrically connect the Sun with its family of planetary bodies. The current energy flows most strongly into the giant gas planets because their charge differential with the Sun is greater than that of their smaller, rocky cousins.

  • Jame

    Reminds me of Clarke’s monoliths. Amazing.

  • Chris Skelton

    Sacred Geometry is God

  • Ray

    The hand of God is amazing in every creation.

  • carol Foster

    All I can say is wow dat is amazing and beautifully mysterious.

  • Erich

    I’d like to thank Chris Phillips for his explanation. IMHO, to the point, clear and concise. Once more, chapeau bas!

  • RS Lewis

    Sorry folks, nothing mysterious here. Hexagonal patterns are a natural occurrence around many vortices that last long enough to achieve equilibrium or stability. Any medium having continuous axial rotation caused by any force can develop epicycles of equal diameter. Six circles of equal diameter will fit around a common axis and can cause an outer hexagonal boundary such as seen on Saturn.

  • Wm.

    By convention, brilliant colors and stunning shapes; in reality, atoms and the void.

    Even more stunning is that it is all a singularity, which is the jaw-dropper and crushing beauty of it all.

  • El Gabilon

    Amazing! Still, what is hiding in our oceans? What do we really know about them? For that matter how much of our planets land mass has not been explored?

  • El Gabilon

    Oppps! Who was that fella that said “Know Thyself”?

  • Bi Den

    The pattern has 6 sides, 6 vertices, 6 radii: 6-6-6. This is the work of Mephisto!

  • Phil

    @Chris Phillips and Erich the electric universe theory was long ago proven to be a fraud pseudo science. Not sure why but <> people really eat that theory up. RS Lewis correctly describes the theory that actual science is working with. With the right equipment You can make this exact structure yourself in a pail of water… no mystery or electric plasma needed.

  • Jenna

    The picture leaves my jaw hanging.

  • Paul Clark

    @Phil. I’m down with the electric universe idea on this one. More and more we’re discovering how inadequate Newton’s gravity is for explaining celestial mechanics. One symptom is dark matter and dark energy.

    The Big Bang is required because Newton’s gravity is only an attractive force. But once you open the door to celestial scale forces of attraction and repulsion, universal stability is so much more believable, and you don’t need to interpret the red shift as being due to the Doppler effect. This also opens the door to the universe being much older than 15 billion years.

    Every star including our sun is positively charged to millions of volts and repel each other. This helps galactic stability. But to the closed minded only Newton’s gravity exists in space. EU been debunked, are you kidding me? With what we’re discovering about plasma currents in space now!?

  • Andy G

    For those wondering about the real science behind all this, here’s a pretty good (if somewhat technical) article.


    The real universe is far more interesting, bewildering, awe inspiring and weird than any imaginings of humans could ever approach 😉


  • mothman777

    The top picture looks like it has a tunnel going right inside Saturn, more evidence of hollow planets.

  • nobody special

    READ.) When so called ison reached the Sun. It was a sign in Heaven that 1 year has passed to the day since the u.n. vote to +setup+ the dividing of the land of Jerusalem 11-29-2012 by the u.n. and pushed by ban ki-moon, the king of the atheist that tempts God!
    READ: Daniel chapter 7, 11 & 12 
    Revelations chapter 12 vers 12.
     Luke chapter 21-vers20. 
    Then READ: u.n. general assembly GA/11317. A.S.A.P.
    Check the bottom of the document and see of your gov. voted against The Father God. They stand against God in the vote. Read Daniel chp 11.
    “Come out of her people of God”!
    They are as the serpent in the Garden that says God shall not surely destroy you but He will destroy your lands! And you will weep and not be heard! And He sends His Angels to cast you into the pit that was made for the evil angels! 

  • Krista Micelli

    These shots are beautiful and i wish i could get in a spaceship and see all this in real life. My dream job would be an astrophysicist and space photographer. There is so much we don’t know about the world outside of our own and the universe is such a truly beautiful thing.

  • geotest.salerno

    La forma esagonale può dipendere dalla morfologia del suolo polare di Saturno.

  • Dick

    All these “beautiful” comments …..it is totally horrific …..though supposedly horror can be synonymous with beauty….,!? Supposedly.

  • magdo

    this is good and it is interesting.

  • MalekAsher

    My b-day!

  • Harley Sturgis

    The universe continues to amaze!!

  • Ragini


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