Saturn's northern polar hexagon
Saturn's northern polar hexagon NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University

According to new data derived from the international Cassini-Huygens mission, a weird hexagon-shaped vortex has emerged above the north pole of Saturn. At this point in time, the planet's northern hemisphere is entering summer. As per the new information at hand, the bizarre vortex is circulating hundreds of kilometers above the stratosphere clouds of the planet, reported the new study.

Previously scientists had spotted another such warm polar vortex at the ringed planet's north pole, which was quite similar to this one. However, that hexagon formation was located lower in the Saturn's atmosphere.

Scientists have still not been able to find out whether or not these two formations are related to each other.

"Either a hexagon has spawned spontaneously and identically at two different altitudes, one lower in the clouds and one high in the stratosphere, or the hexagon is, in fact, a towering structure spanning a vertical range of several hundred kilometers," the lead author of the study, Leigh Fletcher stated. Fletcher is a planetary scientist at England's University of Leicester.

Upon arriving the planet in 2004, NASA's Cassini spacecraft had reported a circular, high-altitude and warm vortex at the planet's south pole as well; however, nothing was there at the north pole at that time, when it was summer in Saturn's southern hemisphere and winter in the northern hemisphere.

Before Cassini, the Voyager spacecraft of NASA had also discovered and documented a comparatively lower-altitude hexagon at Saturn's north pole in the 1980s. Scientists believe that hexagon formation is a nothing but a long-lasting wave related to the rotation of Saturn, just like how Earth's rotation influences the Polar Jet Stream.

Cassini later looked closely at this previously spotted lower-altitude hexagon formation and made used of several high-tech and advanced equipment. However, since it was winter at the planet's northern hemisphere at that time, temperatures in the stratosphere were somewhere around minus 252 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 158 degrees Celsius), which is too cold to get a dependable observation. So, Cassini basically had to wait for summer to arrive at Saturn's northern hemisphere and as a result, the planet's north pole's high-altitude regions remained unexplored for years.

So, when finally the summer arrived years later, CIRS of Cassini discovered the much-awaited, high-altitude, weird polar vortex above the planet's north pole "As the polar vortex became more and more visible, we noticed it had hexagonal edges," said Sandrine Guerlet, the co-author of the study. He is a planetary researcher at France's Dynamic Meteorology Library.

However, the vortex found out years ago at Saturn's south pole was circular. The different vortexes at the poles indicate that Saturn's poles are asymmetrical in nature or maybe the north pole's vortex was continued to develop even after the demise of Cassini in 2017, opined Fletcher.

The scientists are still working to unravel the mystery of Saturn's high-altitude hexagon vortex. "We simply need to know more," added Fletcher.