The images depict the so-called "hexagon" jet stream located near the north pole of Saturn. The formation is so-named because of its six sides. The hexagon is a gigantic storm covering the pole that can reach wind speeds of up to 150 meters per second. The images depict a top-down view of Saturn and show the full 30,000 kilometer diameter of the storm. As a comparison, the diameter of earth is only around 12,700 kilometers.
"The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable," said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology. "A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades -- and who knows -- maybe centuries."
Images of the hexagon taken in the visible light spectrum were unveiled by NASA earlier this year. The images being taken are now possible due to Saturn passing its equinox in 2009.
These newest images were taken using the Cassini probe's high-resolution cameras over the course of 10 hours. Researchers were then able to analyze the photos using false color, allowing them to pick out the different substances that make up the giant storm. They observed smaller vortices within the storm that spin the opposite direction as the main storm, as well as differences in the concentration of haze particles within the storm.
"Inside the hexagon, there are fewer large haze particles and a concentration of small haze particles, while outside the hexagon, the opposite is true," said Kunio Sayanagi, a Cassini imaging team associate at Hampton University. "The hexagonal jet stream is acting like a barrier, which results in something like Earth's Antarctic ozone hole."
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton)