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Mysterious weather at the second largest planet in our solar system
April 29, 2013 11:22 AM   Subscribe


 
Everybody talks about the weather on Saturn but nobody does anything about it.
posted by The Whelk at 11:23 AM on April 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


See what happens when you release too much methane into the atmosphere?
posted by No Robots at 11:23 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


SAURON WAKES.
posted by Etrigan at 11:24 AM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this a Boards Of Canada thing?
posted by steganographia at 11:26 AM on April 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


hey it's that thing Starbuck is obsessed with. Cylons, then?
posted by angrycat at 11:29 AM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Whoa, Sandworms. Ya hate 'em, right? I hate 'em myself!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:30 AM on April 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Clearly a boom tube. I welcome Darkseid, new overlord of earth!
posted by selfnoise at 11:39 AM on April 29, 2013


my god it's full of stars
posted by KokuRyu at 11:42 AM on April 29, 2013


We broke NASA's site. Any one have a back up?
posted by stoneweaver at 11:45 AM on April 29, 2013


The Monoliths are multiplying! Strap in.
posted by Splunge at 11:49 AM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


TIL Saturn has a stylish hexagonal hat.
posted by axiom at 11:50 AM on April 29, 2013


Saturn is currently at opposition (or close to) and easy to find for most of the night. I recommend getting a look at it through a telescope if you can - seek out local amateur astronomy societies perhaps!
posted by edd at 11:53 AM on April 29, 2013


It means that Voyager has finally left the solar system.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:53 AM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


We broke NASA's site. Any one have a back up?
This has actually been known for quite a while (I want to say years, but I'm not 100% sure), so if you just google saturn hexagon you should be able to find lots of info about it, or google image search the same if you want just pictures.
posted by Flunkie at 11:54 AM on April 29, 2013


Note: the EYE of the hurricane is 1250 miles wide. The hurricane itself, as far as I can tell, encompasses the entire planet. Inhospitable!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:54 AM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


You just know there's some producer at the Weather Channel yearning to put Crystal Egger on the scene with a bunch of nonsense flying around right behind her.
posted by boo_radley at 12:01 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


The false-color "Rose" image is stunning. I'm sad it's not a bigger image, as I wish to stare into it's depths (on my computer desktop).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:01 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Underneath the clouds there's a bolt with a hex socket that's loose. We're just waiting for God to show up with his Allen key.
posted by mazola at 12:01 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is this a Boards Of Canada thing?

I am so very tempted to abuse my spousal benefits and add a BOC tag to this post.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:02 PM on April 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Underneath the clouds there's a bolt with a hex socket that's loose. We're just waiting for God to show up with his Allen key.

He already stopped by, but came with a picket of those wrenches he gets in every "assemble-yourself" furniture kit he buys. As could be expected, none are the right size.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:03 PM on April 29, 2013


Watch out New Orleans, Hurricane Cassini is coming!
posted by QueerAngel28 at 12:04 PM on April 29, 2013


So much for global warming!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:05 PM on April 29, 2013


Hexagonal jet stream. Mind = windblown.
posted by maryr at 12:09 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]




I knew that 40 hours spent playing Super Hexagon would eventually come in handy.
Bring it on, Saturn!
posted by bigendian at 12:10 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying it's aliens, but ...
posted by feckless at 12:14 PM on April 29, 2013


I could listen to that guy narrate NASA videos forever. Not only is his voice kind of gruff and gravelly but easy to understand, he's just clearly fascinated by the topic. So, yeah, woo, I hope we don't kill our biome before we get to visit some other planets! Because that would suck.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:14 PM on April 29, 2013


"About the Size of Texas?" Texas! We measure area in Rhode Islands, guys!
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:15 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The creepy part is that for years, they couldn't see what was at the center of the hexagon, as it was winter, and in perpetual shadow...
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:18 PM on April 29, 2013


Turns out Saturn is an extraterrestrial monitoring station, the north pole is a generator and the rings are a bloody huge transmission dish. They'll say hi as soon as we're technologically capable of discovering this.

Good times.
posted by Mooski at 12:21 PM on April 29, 2013


"About the Size of Texas?" Texas! We measure area in Rhode Islands, guys!

No, it's cumulative. It's Rhodes Island until you get to Texas, then it's Texa until you get to Mother Russia.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:27 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


So there's a really good tabletop model for how this hexagon is formed. If you read nothing else in this comment, click this youtube link, which shows the hexagon appearing in fluid between two spinning cylinders.

The original Icarus article is behind a paywall, but here is a news report in Science which describes the work:

"Saturn boasts one of the solar system's most geometrical features: a giant hexagon encircling its north pole. [...] Physicists Ana Claudia Barbosa Aguiar and Peter Read of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom wanted to see if they could recreate the hexagon in the lab. They placed a 30-liter cylinder of water on a slowly spinning table; the water represented Saturn’s atmosphere spinning with the planet’s rotation. Inside this tank, they placed a small ring that whirled more rapidly than the cylinder. This created a miniature artificial "jet stream" that the researchers tracked with a green dye.

The faster the ring rotated, the less circular the green jet stream became. Small eddies formed along its edges, which slowly became larger and stronger and forced the fluid within the ring into the shape of a polygon. By altering the rate at which the ring spun, the scientists could generate various shapes. “We could create ovals, triangles, squares, almost anything you like,” says Read. The bigger the difference in the rotation between the planet and the jet steam—that is the cylinder and the ring—the fewer sides the polygon had, the team reports in Icarus."
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:28 PM on April 29, 2013 [19 favorites]


See this related video as well.
posted by Kabanos at 12:33 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


You just know there's some producer at the Weather Channel yearning to put Crystal Egger on the scene with a bunch of nonsense flying around right behind her.

As exciting as that sounds, another episode of Manly Men In Difficult Situations is cheaper and easier to air.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:55 PM on April 29, 2013


> The false-color "Rose" image is stunning. I'm sad it's not a bigger image

It looks rather frighteningly like Dante's Hell. Much bigger and you could see the damned writhing around. *focuses binocs* Look, there's Eric Hobsbawm.
posted by jfuller at 1:11 PM on April 29, 2013


Is this a Boards Of Canada thing?

Well...
posted by Artw at 1:30 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


So... This Saturn hurricane is a totally different beast than Jupiter's Great Red Spot, right? In my head I want to conflate them, but one is cyclonic and the other anticyclonic, the Saturn hurricane is low in the atmosphere and Jupiter's Spot is a high altitude feature, they exist in different kinds of gases at different pressures, and so on.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:37 PM on April 29, 2013


I'm just glad it's not a Pentagon.
posted by TDavis at 1:40 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've got a meeting on Saturn on Thursday ... hope it's cleared up by then.
posted by anothermug at 1:43 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Saturn storm isn't unique, Venus also has polar vortices.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:49 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just when I think space has about tapped out the coolness, some shit like this happens.
posted by nevercalm at 1:53 PM on April 29, 2013


This has actually been known for quite a while (I want to say years, but I'm not 100% sure), so if you just google saturn hexagon you should be able to find lots of info about it, or google image search the same if you want just pictures.

Yes, in fact, previously. Nonetheless interesting, even if not aliens. The hexagonal shape is apparently a known standing wave effect.
posted by aught at 2:09 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


We need to do something about this.
posted by LarryC at 3:19 PM on April 29, 2013


So there's a really good tabletop model for how this hexagon is formed.
...

The original Icarus article is behind a paywall, but here is a news report in Science which describes the work:

"Saturn boasts one of the solar system's most geometrical features: a giant hexagon encircling its north pole. [...] Physicists Ana Claudia Barbosa Aguiar and Peter Read of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom wanted to see if they could recreate the hexagon in the lab. They placed a 30-liter cylinder of water on a slowly spinning table; the water represented Saturn’s atmosphere spinning with the planet’s rotation. Inside this tank, they placed a small ring that whirled more rapidly than the cylinder. This created a miniature artificial "jet stream" that the researchers tracked with a green dye.

The faster the ring rotated, the less circular the green jet stream became. Small eddies formed along its edges, which slowly became larger and stronger and forced the fluid within the ring into the shape of a polygon. By altering the rate at which the ring spun, the scientists could generate various shapes. “We could create ovals, triangles, squares, almost anything you like,” says Read. The bigger the difference in the rotation between the planet and the jet steam—that is the cylinder and the ring—the fewer sides the polygon had, the team reports in Icarus."
posted by RedOrGreen


That's fascinating, RedorGreen.

The last time Saturn's hexagon appeared on the blue, back in 2007, Chinese Jet Pilot posted a link to a discussion in Nature of a different table top model of the vortex:
Bizarre geometric shapes that appear at the centre of swirling vortices in planetary atmospheres might be explained by a simple experiment with a bucket of water.

Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby have created similar geometric shapes (holes in the form of stars, squares, pentagons and hexagons) in whirlpools of water in a cylindrical bucket1. The shapes appear easily enough once the bucket is spinning at a rate of one to seven revolutions per second, they say.

Tomas Bohr and colleagues made plexiglass buckets, 13 and 20 centimetres across, with metal bottoms that could be rotated at high speed by a motor. They filled the bucket with water and spun the bottom to whip up the liquid into a whirlpool that rose up the sides of the container.

This set-up is very similar to the rotating bucket that Isaac Newton used in the seventeenth century to investigate centrifugal forces.

The researchers found that once the plate was spinning so fast that the water span out to the sides, creating a hole of air in the middle, the dry patch wasn't circular as might be expected. Instead it evolved, as the bucket's spin sped up, from an ellipse to a three-sided star, to a square, a pentagon, and, at the highest speeds investigated, a hexagon. ...
Having the bottom of the bucket spinning seems like a better model of the planetary surface than a spinning ring, but the appearance of the hexagon entirely within the fluid in the experiment with the ring seems truer to the situation on Saturn than the hexagonal water/air interface of the bucket with a spinning bottom.

A major difference between the two seems to be that with the ring, greater relative speeds meant fewer sides, but the spinning bottom produced more at greater speeds, with the hexagon as a limit.
posted by jamjam at 3:29 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


HEXAGONS IS THE KEY INSIGHT
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:48 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


A fascinating thing I learned recently is that Saturn's atmosphere is a potential colonization target for humans. Saturn's third cloud deck consisting of water and presumably generating the occasional water rain event is at a level where the pressure is about 5 Earth atmospheres, and the temperature is approaching Earth surface temperature. This means if you were floating in a balloon you'd need very little extra to survive. It seems likely you could step out onto the balcony of your gondola condo wearing nothing but a respirator and jacket, and enjoy the Saturnian breeze on your exposed skin.

You'd need oxygen of course, which you could always get from the water with a suitable energy source. The pressure would be a bit high but not ridiculous, and there's plenty of helium to mix the oxygen with to get a suitable diving mix. You might be able to get the energy from a temperature gradient tap. Wind would be a bit hard what with not having a surface...

Of course the gravity well is brutal but getting down is a straightforward matter of aerobrake plus parachute. It would be a one-way trip but you'd have no shortage of surface to explore. Given an energy source and tech to harvest more solid raw materials from the clouds, it could be a much vaster living space than a hundred Earths, and far more hospitable than places like Mars much less Venus.
posted by localroger at 4:12 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was all prepared to go "jesus christ but you'd never be able to get up much less 'step out'" because, hello, huge planet, gravity, come on.

But it turns out that Saturn's gravity at the equator is within 10% of Earth's gravity!

That just knocks me down. Huge planet, 95x the mass of Earth, but it is only 2/3 as dense as water. I just love this stuff. SCIENCE!

You could fucking walk around on the third cloud deck of Saturn! (with an appropriate floor)

Damn!
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:04 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]




The Saturn storm isn't unique, Venus also has polar vortices.

Venus… from Saturn
posted by homunculus at 6:14 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


If it were false-colored with turquoise...
posted by en forme de poire at 6:20 PM on April 29, 2013


Yeah seanmpuckett I forgot to mention the reasonable acceleration due to gravity at surface. It's really amazing how much more attractive an environment that is than any of the other Solar planets other than, of course, Earth itself.
posted by localroger at 6:30 PM on April 29, 2013


Sounds like Saturn could be the setting for a real life Miyazaki movie. Now we just need to invent flying cities.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:11 PM on April 29, 2013


I can't see why terrestrial bacteria couldn't flourish at those temperatures and pressures. Given that, isn't it plausible that they're already there? It would take just one fortunate microbe to somehow reach Saturn's atmosphere and voila, the whole planet would be colonised.

Hehe, "colonised".

Hey, can I smell methane?

It's coming from Uranus.

posted by Joe in Australia at 9:15 PM on April 29, 2013


It seems likely you could step out onto the balcony of your gondola condo

"What are we standing on?"
"Trust"
-- The Limey
posted by dhartung at 12:32 AM on April 30, 2013


Back when I was an astrophysics student I recall seeing an odd graffito in the toilets of the physics department. Someone had drawn a tiny hexagon. Underneath was written "Suddenly, hexagons are fun again!"

I always thought it was funny but I never understood what it meant. UNTIL NOW.
posted by Decani at 2:36 AM on April 30, 2013




"NASA's Cassini mission has posted a new photo of Saturn's moon Enceladus emitting a stunning plume of water vapor longer than the moon is wide."

How are we not sending multiple probes and rovers to investigate this?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:23 AM on May 6, 2013


I'd like to think it's because there's a lot of people who believe we shouldn't do outer space stuff until no one is hungry or sick or at risk of violent harm which is kind of a sweet thought when you think about it, but the reality is that people these days are more cost efficiently distracted from the hands in their pockets by fear of terrorism than fear of nuclear war, which was the only thing that gave us a rocket program in the first place.

I know it was a rhetorical question, but it's just so depressing.

On the other hand, there's amazing science being done with robotics, telemetry, lightweight aircraft and surveillance technology these days. So there's Skynet, yeah.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:15 PM on May 6, 2013


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