Astronomers have solved the decades-old mystery of a bizarre hexagon etched into the clouds above Saturn’s north pole.
After recreating the hexagon in the lab, the physicists at the University of Oxford have found that a regular, pointy shape is indeed a natural phenomenon in this case.
The hexagon was first detected by the Voyager missions in the 1980s and again the infrared mapping of the strange shape by Cassini in 2006 showed that it had survived for at least 25 years, the Discovery Channel reported.
In the research, the scientists made a model of Saturn’s north pole. A slow-spinning cylinder of water represented Saturn’s atmosphere and a small, rapidly-spinning ring represented a jet stream. They added some fluorescent green dye and got a pretty well-defined hexagon. By playing with the speed of the ring, the researchers could make nearly any shape that they wanted.
The greater the difference in speed between the water and the ring, the fewer sides the polygon had. The shape seems to be bound by eddies that slowly orbit and confine the inner ring into the polygon.
The researchers said, apparently, these shapes are not uncommon in fluid dynamics and can even be seen in hurricanes.
This seems to be an example of a well-known phenomenon in one field being relevant to another in a completely unexpected way.
But it takes a while for each community to be aware of the other one’s results.