Saturn’s Hexagonal North Pole: What is Causing It?

Infrared observations of the south pole of Saturn as taken by the Cassini mission in 2007 and 2008 (NASA)
Infrared observations of the south pole of Saturn as taken by the Cassini mission in 2007 and 2008 (NASA)

The mystery of Saturn’s hexagonal shape embedded in its violent north polar cyclone just became more intriguing.

NASA’s Cassini probe has been orbiting the ringed gas giant for four years and has just returned some of the most detailed images of the planet’s stormy atmosphere to date. The south pole has been mapped and the north polar region has been imaged in near-infrared wavelengths. The north pole is currently facing away from the Sun, so by observing the atmosphere in these wavelengths, Cassini scientists can see Saturn’s cloud formations silhouette against the background glow of the gas giant’s internal heat. This provides the perfect opportunity to see the hexagon in unprecedented detail.

So what is generating this mysterious six-sided shape?

According to today’s NASA press release, the new high-resolution images of Saturn’s polar regions have just rejuvenated the Saturn hexagon mystery:

The entire north pole of Saturn is now mapped in detail in infrared, with features as small as 120 kilometers (75 miles) visible in the images. Time-lapse movies of the clouds circling the north pole show the whirlpool-like cyclone there is rotating at 530 kilometers per hour (325 miles per hour), more than twice as fast as the highest winds measured in cyclonic features on Earth. This cyclone is surrounded by an odd, honeycombed-shaped hexagon, which itself does not seem to move while the clouds within it whip around at high speeds, also greater than 500 kilometers per hour (300 miles per hour). Oddly, neither the fast-moving clouds inside the hexagon nor this new cyclone seem to disrupt the six-sided hexagon.NASA Press Release (Oct. 13)

The Saturn hexagon as seen by Voyager 1 in 1980 (NASA)
The Saturn hexagon as seen by Voyager 1 in 1980 (NASA)

The shape was originally spotted in 2006 by Cassini as it made a pass over Saturn’s north pole (although preliminary observations were made by Voyager 1 in 1980, but confirmation had to be gained from Cassini). At the time, the sight of such a symmetrical pattern stirred up a lot of interest, but it was generally thought that this feature might have been something transient, perhaps a chance observation of a developing pattern. However, it appeared to be stable, turning with the circulation of Saturn’s atmosphere.

Today, it appears that the shape is far from being a short-lived feature. Since its original discovery in 1980, the hexagon is still there, approximately the same size, with six sides. Now with these higher resolution near-infrared images, we can see far more detail. The beautiful hexagonal shape is highly structured, with concentric circles of clouds inside and outside. Small-scale storm systems rotate with velocities of several hundred km/hr, pushing against the straight sides without interfering with the pattern. It would appear the small-scale systems are what maintains the hexagon.

So what is it? I’ve read a few engrossing accounts that the hexagon may be of extraterrestrial origin (touching on the deranged and convoluted hyperdimensional theory), a signal for the human race to discover when we are capable of observing such a shape. After all, the north pole of Saturn is very hard (nigh-on impossible) to view from Earth as we can only observe Saturn along the plane of the ecliptic, we’d need to send a spaceship over Saturn’s pole to see the symbol. There’s also been the connection between the hexagon and the Lucifer Project. Although these are interesting theories, I suspect a far more mundane explanation (unless we observe a heart-shape in Neptune’s north pole in the distant future, I think we can skip the ET idea).

The north and south poles of Saturn as imaged by Cassini in near-infrared (NASA)
The north and south poles of Saturn as imaged by Cassini in near-infrared (NASA)

In planetary atmospheres, many waves propagate. On Earth, we have small-scale waves in the form of sound waves, and we have planetary-scale waves such as Rossby waves. Usually, waves travelling through our atmosphere are excited due to some atmospheric disturbance, whether it be a change in temperature, pressure or altitude forcing (i.e. air passing over a mountain, it drops and then oscillates). Looking at the hexagonal shape above Saturn’s north pole, I’d take the guess that it is down to a planetary-wide oscillation. The closest analogue we have on Earth is the Rossby wave that is excited by a combination of the Earth’s rotation (i.e. the Coriolis force) and high-altitude winds. These high altitude winds meander as they travel around both hemispheres, encompassing the poles. This meander is known as a Rossby wave.

Terrestrial Rossby waves are variable depending on the time of the year and has a huge effect on the jet stream, thereby influencing the weather down below. Perhaps Saturn has a similar wave, only on a larger scale. Due to a higher atmospheric density, perhaps Saturn’s planetary-scale waves evolve into a more stable, standing wave form? Perhaps the dynamic atmosphere is shaped by this wave, forcing it into the hexagonal pattern we see from Cassini? In this case, the six-sided shape actually represents six wavelengths. Perhaps there is a natural atmospheric resonance at this planetary latitude?

This is all guesswork, but I think it is a little more likely than an extraterrestrial form of communication, with no hyperdimensional thingies in sight

For more on today’s exciting observations check out my Universe Today article and have a look at NASA’s Cassini press release.

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29 thoughts on “Saturn’s Hexagonal North Pole: What is Causing It?”

  1. I think that the very important thing is only one:
    is nearly impossible that that hexagon is a “natural” object.
    Think about this simple sentence…

    And it’s not a hexagon, say, on Mars, but on Saturn, a giant-gas only planet !!!
    Who has the technology to do this ?

    I think Nasa MUST concentrate on it and use Cassini to discover all the possible…

    And lastly, in my opinion, it’s a beautyful geometrical object…

    What do you think ?

    1. Hexagon storm cell arrays were seen above Pacific. This may be a similar thing. Hexagon should not exist alone, maybe there are more of this things hidden in the atmosphere.

  2. And what of Wal Thornhill’s explanation based in plasma physics / Birkeland currents, leaving out all the wacky UFO / hyperdimensional whosywhatsit junk?

    holoscience.com/news.php?article=4egjus1n
    holoscience.com/news.php?article=1xz2g6tn

    I realize that you’d probably prefer to shy away from what some have mischaracterized pseudoscience or slightly less derisively (though not by much) “fringe science,” however, Thornhill was about the only one to have actually predicted (experimentum crucis) that BOTH poles would be warm, in opposition to the prevailing “seasonal” explanation (offered by the Keck folks) which should have yielded one warm and one cold pole.

    Leaving aside some of the extraneous remarks with respect to astronomers / astrophysicists, Thornhill does appear to provide some level of detail of specific physical mechanisms he believes are involved and to have explanatory power…

    Is an “unpopular” explanation based on observations better than little or no explanation (or hidden dynamos, dark matter and other unobservables)? I tend to think so. But that’s just me.

    For what it’s worth. 🙂
    ~Michael

  3. Dadox:
    Agree the hexagon is pretty. Disagree that it MUST be artificial / technological in origin…

    nature.com/news/2006/060515/full/news060515-17.html
    tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/04/05/and-saturns-hexagon-shall-be-called/

    Seems that some geometric shapes can be made through various natural processes. Don’t know whether the “spinning water in a bucket” theory works @ Saturn or not, of course.

    Then there’s Thornhill’s explanation using the notion that a ‘diocotron instability’ may tend to adopt a hexagonal configuration.

    “Birkeland current filamentation can be seen best in the top quadrants of Saturn’s blue auroral ring. The cylindrical auroral beam is subject to vortex formation, known as ‘diocotron instabilities.’ Historically, vortex structure and vortex interactions in charged particle beams have been known since the turn of the 19th century when Kristian Birkeland first photographed the passage of particle beams through low vacuum in his terrella cathode experiments. Neighbouring vortices are subject to long-range attractive and short-range repulsive forces, which result in a departure of the discharge pattern from a circle to a polygon.

    [Image of ‘diocotron instability’ evolution from cylindrical geometry to hexagonal filamentary geometry omitted]

    The diocotron instabilities in the inner current cylinder are forcing the cloud pattern to form the distinctive hexagonal shape. The polar hot spot is heated by the Birkeland current discharge in the core of the Z-pinch.”

    Just one more interpretation to add to the list. But, if a single process can account for all or many of the features seen, why not at least give it consideration?

    Regards,
    ~Michael

  4. Oops, for got the link to Thornhill’s article in the prior post:

    (See item 4: Saturn’s north polar hot spot and the Electric Universe “experimentum crucis.” )
    holoscience.com/news.php?article=66b0jzyh

    Cheers,
    ~Michael

  5. It would be amazing if they were terrestrial in origin – that would imply that creatures from Terra (Earth!) had made them!!!!!
    extrasaturnian?

  6. They say its due to radio waves or something like that. But just imagine how big a radio wave do you need to produce such thing? Its unbelievable. They also say its being holding its shape for so many years. It definitely needs to be looked at one day.

  7. I can’t stand it when nasa acts stupid liek they dont know!.
    Ok i’ll let you in on a lil secret first of all its related to metatrons cube also known in a more simple form as (the flower of life)
    But…
    The most important part is how this relates to Cymatics , thats right, cymatics, the study of wave phenomena produced by sound, just check out this link…

    http://images.google.ca/images?hl=en&q=vowel%20a%20in%20cymatics&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wi

    Now was that so hard to figure out???, took me all of a week!!!

  8. I think this hexagon shape suggests what is probably in the center of Saturn: a cubic crystal just like the one scientists now say is in the center of Earth….
    http://www.physorg.com/news121692398.html
    Are there “crystals” in the center of every planetary body? In our sun?

    And how interesting that…
    A) Crystals receive and transmit radio signals and
    B) The universe is filled with radio waves

    Hmm.

  9. BTW, if you need PROOF that this is a reoccurring pattern in nature, go pick up a well formed, mature banana, now look at the bottom/butt of it real carefully. No what your seeing is not a coincedence, why can’t scientist just accept this simple truth?

  10. I have been pondering as to why I was instantly attracted to the Saturn North Polar Formation’s image and now find myself falling back to my military camouflage training. There are three properties that attract the human attention and they can be listed in my old training manuals in the order of their attraction. They are movement, color, and shape.

    The human eye is instantly attracted to the Saturn North Polar Formation by its movement. It rotates around it axis, but the inner hexagonal shape remains stationary. This combination of positive and negative movement draws attention to itself.

    Sound is a function of movement and the repeating radio wave patterns that have been detected by the Cassini space probe emanating from Saturn does draws attention to itself.
    The color spectrum of the wave lengths emanating from the hexagonal shape of the Saturn North Polar Formation shows dynamic forces are at work. Formations that are reaching entropy are dull and dark; and so the human eye is attracted to the bright wave lengths that indicate the possibility of a life process.

    The third characteristic, shape, is the most defining of the Saturn North Polar Formation. Everybody has heard Kent’s famous quote, “nature abhors a straight line.” While this statement is not completely true, straight lines are found in nature, but it is also true that lines, rectangles, and circles, are the most distinguishing characteristic of human occupation. This is why these shapes are avoided in military patterns when attention is not wanted and used when it is needed. Could this human pattern of behavior also be universally indicative of an alien life forms occupation of a space?

    If this had occurred in a battlefield situation I would have instantly tried to report, identify, and interrogate. In this situation, I think we should also remember that untamed nature is also a battlefield.

  11. Create the saturn Hexagon in your kitchen sink.

    If you have a spray handle in your sink, just place a nicely sized wok in the center of the sink and turn the water on. Point the spray handle at the inside lip of the wok. The jet of water will be directed around the interior of the wok in the shape of a hexagon, pentagon, or square, ect. The shape created by the jet depends on the size of the wok and the angle of the jet.

    Presto-chango no aliens and no need to be keep saying hexagons don’t occur in nature.

  12. Further to SounderStandings comment:In 1967, the late Hans Jenny, a Swiss doctor, artist, and researcher, published the bilingual book Kymatik -Wellen und Schwingungen mit ihrer Struktur und Dynamik/ Cymatics – The Structure and Dynamics of Waves and Vibrations.His research (building on that of Chladni et.al. and since continued by others – see links below) has shown that 3-dimensional forms are generated by harmonic / 'musical' sound vibrations. This lends scientific proof to the very ancient notion that the entire universe is in fact 'formed by music'. Australian Aboriginal people have a tradition that the world was “sung into being” by the ancient 'gods' (read: 'primordial forces of nature')http://www.cymatics.orghttp://www.world-mysteries.com/sci_cymatics.htmDraw from this whatever conclusions you will – I am satisfied with the idea that the phenomenon on Saturn is another manifestation of this fundamental mechanism: music is the basis of all life and that all 'patterned' systems, chaotic or ordered, are – at some fundamental level – alive.

    1. The hexagon is a shape used often by nature. Not only in the snow flake, but in bee hives, wasp nests, flower petals, tree leaves, quartz crystals, diamond crystals, etc. I believe (like the person with the wok and water stream above) that this is a natural phenominom that will eventually have a natural answer.SyFyGy

    2. Interesting info.. Just had to point out the most famous example of this interesting property of sound… Which ofcourse, would be the numerous biblical claims where it describes God speaking this creation into existence.. As well as the many references to his “Word” being the first existing element apart from Jehovah, and the origin of everything! Not to be ignored is this characteristic of sound, all throughout the texts, being true of that which we speak.. as if we r being warned to be aware and cautious of what we declare with our mouths.. as if it has an ability to release or welcome, if not create, in ways we do not fully comprehend.. interesting thoughts on this.. both of u may be on to something. The power of the spoken word!

  13. someone needs to stand up to the main stream defending diying ideas. I would like suggest that the hexagon shapes we see in crators, hurricanes and atop Saturn is more simple than we realise, magnetism has a centripetal vortex which pulls matter closer together, the tightest formation under pressure results in packing atoms into hexagonal close packing or geometric placements, around a single point, this create hexagons in the geology or atmosphere of the planets with a strong enough magnetic core. All planets have hexagons in their north poles geology as can be seen with the naked eye on all of nasas photos (just look for them). Find a facebook page called electric field lines to see what I mean. Ken wheelers book, ‘uncovering the secrets of magnetism’ explains all we need to figure out what’s going on in all of nature, cosmology and the attempts of particle physics. the mainstream is embarrassed and faulty in all of its conclusions.

  14. The hexagon shaped clouds circulating around the North pole
    of Saturn are caused by the planet’s rotation modified by a
    slight precession of the poles (more pronounced in the North) with an
    interplay with the planet’s wobble. (Assumption: the wobble is
    caused by the solid core’s asymmetry.)
    That is, a directional change in the ring shaped flow pattern of clouds
    circulating around the polar area is due to small timely shifts in
    direction (acceleration and deceleration) caused by instabilities of the
    planetary axis. The planetary wobble and precession of the poles augment
    and detract from each other at precise moments (shifts) resulting in the
    hexagonal appearance of the circulating clouds.
    The project is to calculate those adding and subtracting angular forces needed to produce the observed phenomenon. k

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