The mystery of Saturn’s bizarre 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 in unprecedented detail what—not counting the rings—is the planet’s most extraordinary feature.
It seems that there is a gigantic (15,000-mile diameter) perfect hexagon cloud hovering over its North Pole. What’s more it appears to be a permanent feature. First spotted by the Voyager spacecraft over two decades ago, the cloud was recently re-photographed by the Cassini space probe, still there and unchanged. So far NASA scientists have failed to provide any kind of satisfactory explanation, but that has not deterred a tide of internet speculation.
Some think it is a manifestation of evil, others see it as reflecting energy which affects our daily lives. Space researcher Richard Hoagland sees it as evidence of hyper-dimensional energy flow. Certainly it does appear to indicate the presence of some kind of geometric force field or standing wave. One is reminded of various theories offered a few years ago concerning Earth’s underlying form. The planet, it was argued by Russian researchers, is fundamentally a dodecahedron (12 pentagon-shaped sides). In other words, Earth’s underlying form is crystalline. Hoagland has suggested that Earth and Mars are basically tetrahedrons (four equilateral triangles) and that the ancient civilizations of both planets knew it. Most who see a geometric basis for the shape of Earth also see a connection with ancient grids and ley lines. All of that suggests the presence of some kind of planetary consciousness, as in the Gaia hypothesis (Earth as goddess). Could similar forces be operating on Saturn? Not even NASA knows for sure. Maybe we should say, especially not NASA.
Now, a recently taken nighttime view of Saturn’s North Pole by the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer on Cassini reveals a dynamic, active planet at least 75 kilometers (47 miles) below the normal cloud tops seen in visible light. Clearly revealed is a bizarre six-sided hexagon feature. Also revealed is a gigantic active aurora following the shape of the hexagon.
The image is one of the first well defined images of the north polar region ever acquired from a unique polar perspective. Clearly shown are high-altitude emissions from atmospheric molecules excited by charged particles smashing into the atmosphere along Saturn’s powerful magnetic field lines, producing the aurora at very high altitudes in Saturn’s atmosphere.
According to NASA, the image is among the first to capture the entire hexagonal feature and north polar region in one shot. It is also one of the first polar views using Saturn’s thermal glow at 5 microns (seven times the wavelength visible to the human eye) as the light source. This allows polar cloud features to be revealed during the persistent nighttime conditions under way during north polar winter.
Tom Stallard, a scientist working with Cassini data at the University of Leicester, describes the new Cassini infrared observations above the North Pole of Saturn: “We’ve never seen an aurora like this elsewhere. It’s not just a ring of auroras like those we’ve seen at Jupiter or Earth. This aurora covers an enormous area across the pole. Our current ideas on what forms Saturn’s aurora predict that this region should be empty, so finding such a bright aurora here is a fantastic surprise.”
The hexagonal feature was originally discovered by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in 1980, but those images and subsequent ground-based telescope images suffered from poor viewing perspectives, which placed the feature and the North Pole at the extreme northern limb (edge) in those images.
The strong brightness of the hexagon feature indicates that it is primarily a clearing in the clouds, which extends deep into the atmosphere, at least down to the 3-bar (3-Earth atmospheres pressure) level, about 75 kilometers (47 miles) below the clouds and hazes seen in visible wavelengths. Thick clouds border both sides of the narrow feature, as indicated by the adjacent dark lanes paralleling the bright hexagon. This image and other images acquired over a 12-day period between Oct. 30 and Nov. 11, 2006, show that the feature is nearly stationary and likely is an unusually strong pole-encircling planetary wave that extends deep into the atmosphere.
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, says NASA, is surrounded by the mysterious, 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.
The shape was originally spotted in 2006 by Cassini (although preliminary observations had been made by Voyager 1 in 1980, but confirmation was needed from Cassini). In the ’80s, the sight of such a symmetrical pattern stirred up a lot of interest, but it was generally believed that this feature might have been something transient, perhaps a chance observation of a developing pattern. However, it did seem to be stable, revolving with the circulation of Saturn’s atmosphere.
It is clear now that the shape is a virtually permanent feature. Since its original discovery, the hexagon has remained approximately the same size, with six distinct sides. Now with these recent higher resolution near-infrared images, more detail can be seen. 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 kilometers per hour, pushing against the straight sides without interfering with the pattern. It would appear the small-scale systems are what maintains the border of the hexagon.
The new-found cyclone is only visible in the near-infrared wavelengths because the North Pole is in winter, thus in darkness to visible-light cameras. At these wavelengths, about seven times greater than light seen by the human eye, the clouds deep inside Saturn’s atmosphere are seen in silhouette against the background glow of the gas giant’s internal heat.
New Cassini imagery of Saturn’s South Pole shows complementary aspects of the region through the eyes of two different instruments. Near-infrared images from the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer instrument show the whole region is pockmarked with storms, while the imaging cameras show close-up details.
Unlike Earth-bound hurricanes, powered by the ocean’s heat and water, Saturn’s cyclones have no body of water at their bases, yet the eye-walls of Saturn’s and Earth’s storms look strikingly similar. Saturn’s hurricanes are locked to the planet’s poles, whereas terrestrial hurricanes drift across the ocean.
“These are truly massive cyclones, hundreds of times stronger than the most giant hurricanes on Earth,” said Kevin Baines, Cassini scientist on the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “Dozens of puffy, convectively formed cumulus clouds swirl around both poles, betraying the presence of giant thunderstorms lurking beneath. Thunderstorms are the likely engine for these giant weather systems,” said Baines.
Just as condensing water in clouds on Earth powers hurricane vortices, the heat released from the condensing water in Saturnian thunderstorms deep down in the atmosphere may be the primary power source energizing the vortex.
In the south, the new infrared images of the pole, under the daylight conditions of southern summer, show the entire region is marked by hundreds of dark cloud spots. The clouds, like those at the North Pole, are, according to NASA, likely a manifestation of convective, thunderstorm-like processes extending some 100 kilometers (62 miles) below the clouds. They are likely composed of ammonium hydrosulfide with possibly a mixture of materials dredged up from the depths. By contrast, most of the hazes and clouds seen on Saturn are thought to be composed of ammonia, which condenses at high, visible altitudes.
Complementary images of the South Pole from Cassini’s imaging cameras, obtained in mid-July, are 10 times more detailed than any seen before. “What looked like puffy clouds in lower resolution images are turning out to be deep convective structures seen through the atmospheric haze,” said Cassini imaging team member Tony DelGenio of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. “One of them has punched through to a higher altitude and created its own little vortex.”
The “eye” of the vortex is surrounded by an outer ring of high clouds. The new images also hint at an inner ring of clouds about half the diameter of the main ring, and so the actual clear “eye” region is smaller than it appears in earlier low-resolution images.
“It’s like seeing into the eye of a hurricane,” said Andrew Ingersoll, a member of Cassini’s imaging team at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. “It’s surprising. Convection is an important part of the planet’s energy budget because the warm upwelling air carries heat from the interior. In a terrestrial hurricane, the convection occurs in the eyewall; the eye is a region of downwelling. Here convection seems to occur in the eye as well.”
Further observations are planned to see how the features at both poles evolve as the seasons change from southern summer to fall in August 2009.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed, and assembled at JPL. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team is based at the University of Arizona. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, CO. The Cassini partnership represents an undertaking whose scope and cost would not likely be borne by any single nation, but is made possible through shared investment and participation. Through the mission, about 260 scientists from 17 countries hope to gain a better understanding of Saturn, its stunning rings, its magnetosphere, Titan, and its other icy moons.
For many in the alternative science community, the Saturn hexagon and accompanying aurora are suggestive of underlying geometric patterns which are thought to be at the core of all large structures, including planets. Here on Earth researchers have noted overarching forms in phenomena like earthquakes, storms, and volcanic activity, to say nothing of bird and animal migrations and many other natural phenomena. Changes in the planet’s geomagnetic
field have been associated with changes in the resonance of the earth and have been interpreted as indicative of some kind of process of on-going, essentially organic, change.
Also mentioned are the Platonic solids, the series of regular polyhedrons which can be inscribed within a sphere, most notably the dodecahedron, a twelve-sided figure with each face forming a regular pentagon. Richard Hoagland has famously argued that the four-sided tetrahedron (the simplest of the Platonic solids) is at the heart of both Earthly and Martian forms and can explain many planetary anomalies on both worlds. The primary suggestion is that the planets are crystalline at heart.
Some believe that this could explain the prophecy of John the Divine in his Book of Revelations in which he describes the coming New Jerusalem and New Earth as “having the light like the light unto a crystal,” and being “as long as it is wide as it is high,” or geometric in shape.
According to Francis Hitching’s Atlas of the the Unexplained, in the 1960s, three Russian scientists, historians Nikolai Goncharov, construction engineer Vyacheslav Morozov and electronics specialist Valery Makarov, had the idea of reexamining the globe to see if any pattern should emerge linking significant places in history. After several years’ research in Moscow, they published their findings in Khimiya I Zhizn, the popular science journal of the USSR Academy of Sciences, entitled: ‘Is the Earth a Large Crystal?’
Drawing from their combined experience of history, engineering, and electronics, they decided that there was nothing in theory to have prevented a lattice-work pattern—a ‘matrix of cosmic energy,’ as they put it—from being built into the structure of the Earth at the time it was formed, whose shape could still be dimly perceived today. Pravda, once the official Russian journal for the younger generation, followed up the idea with a suggestion that Earth had begun life as a crystal, and that only slowly did it mold itself into the spheroid it is today.
According to their hypothesis, the crystal can still be seen in twelve pentagonal slabs covering the surface of the globe—a dodecahedron. Overlaid on this are 20 equilateral triangles. The entire geometric structure, they claim, can be seen in its influence on the siting of ancient civilizations, on earth faults, magnetic anomalies, and many other otherwise unrelated locations, which are placed either at the intersections of the grid, or along its lines.
Among ancient and modern indigenous peoples the world over are very similar traditions of earth energy patterns and how they were once utilized. In England, alignments among standing stones, stone circles and many ancient sites are called leys, along which flowed the life force that fertilized the landscape. In Ireland they are remembered as fairy paths and in Germany as holy lines. The Greeks knew them as the Sacred Roads of Hermes, while the ancient Egyptians regarded them as the Pathways of Mim.
The Chinese today still measure the Lung Mei or “dragon currents” which affect the balance of the land, as practiced through the ancient art of Feng shui much in the same fashion as the application of acupuncture needles in Chinese medicine helps the flow of Chi or life force in the human body, so the placement of pagodas, stones, trees, temples and houses in the environment was regarded as a way to “heal” the Earth.
Whatever, the cause of Saturn’s mysterious hexagon, though, it is clear that some kind of symmetry is present where none was expected, at least by the science establishment.