Giga hexagon!

Well, while I’m on the subject of hexagons, I might as well do what I do best and leap from the imperceptibly tiny to the immensely huge. There’s one hexagonal structure which is naturally formed and large enough to easily fit our entire planet inside it. It’s been known about for decades, and no one really understands. If you’d like to see it for yourself though, you’ve going to have to go to Saturn. Simply speaking, there’s a gaping hexagonal hole in the cloud cover of Saturn’s north pole with around two and a half times the volume of our planet!

The North pole of Saturn is home to a gargantuan hexagon. Most planets with thick atmospheres also have polar vortices. Perpetual storms with strong winds blowing about the planets’ rotational axes. Even Earth’s south pole has a vortex. On Saturn though, for some reason the North pole possesses this strange hexagonal standing wave. Each of the hexagon’s sides is around 13800 km in length (Earth’s diameter is around 12740 km, to give you some idea of the scale). That gives it an area of 494 million square kilometres and a perimeter of 82800 km. This is no small geometric shape.

It’s not just some temporary quirk either. It was first detected by Voyager 2, and Cassini confirmed that it was still there. Hiding inside the hexagon too, is a small cloud which has apparently been running around in a hexagonal shape for a long long time. It’s not just on the surface either. The Saturn hexagon descends about 80 km into the planet’s atmosphere, giving the whole thing a volume of around 39.5 billion cubic kilometres!

Rather obviously, this is pretty cool. Interestingly, the effect can be replicated by using a spinning bucket! A vortex apparently contains a number of harmonic frequencies. These frequencies cause resonances which result in the formation of geometric shapes. Ideas abound involving sine waves and suchlike. But exactly what would cause a “bucket” at Saturn’s north pole isn’t entirely clear. To see things slightly more clearly, there’s a YouTube video which does quite a good job of explaining all of this!

One thing is for certain — whatever may cause the Saturn hexagon, it’s a pretty remarkable feat of nature!

Images via AstroEarth and Lights in the Dark.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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7 Responses to Giga hexagon!

  1. maxdwolf says:

    Re: Aliens!
    The panoply of wingnuttery and lunacy never ceases to amaze me. It is fascinating, amusing, and frightening all at the same time.
    I enjoyed Varley a great deal, though it’s been many years since I first read this series. It gets a little over the top bizarre at the end, imo, but still fun. Not knowing your usual taste in sci-fi, I can’t make any promises.

  2. invaderxan says:

    Anytime! :)

  3. helen99 says:

    So nifty – thanks for sharing it.

  4. invaderxan says:

    Haha! You’re welcome! :)

  5. invaderxan says:

    Re: Aliens!
    You jest, but the scary part is that there are people who genuinely believe that. Especially people who heard the sound of those Saturnian auroral emissions and drew their own conclusions. A quick Google search reveals a veritable pandora’s box of crackpottery! Might make a pretty good sci fi book actually…
    And I’ve not read Titan… Is it any good?

  6. the South pole of Saturn, with the worlds most boring wargaming map (only having one hex to place units into)
    thank you! Lovely images!

  7. maxdwolf says:

    Aliens!
    Ok, almost certainly not. But if I were to write this into a sci-fi book it certainly would be. It does put me in mind of Varley’s Titan (just a hint of an association, no direct mapping).

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