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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