NASA today released photos taken by the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn and its moons. The images reveal a “swirling vortex” that covers part of Saturn’s north polar hexagon. NASA stated that Cassini has been traversing Saturn’s system in tilted orbits, which gave mission scientists these amazing views of the planet’s polar region.
The images were taken on Tuesday, when Cassini was just 250,000 miles from Saturn. The large storm is similar to one Cassini has photographed at the planet’s south pole in the past. Back in 2008, Cassini detected storms at Saturn’s north pole, but only at infrared wavelengths. Now that the seasons on the ringed planet have changed, the northern polar region is no longer in darkness and the massive storm can be photographed in visible light.
Cassini observed a similar seasonal shift on Titan recently. As the southern winter on Titan has begun, sinking air at the south pole has prompted an abrupt shift in the circulation of the moon’s atmosphere and a vortex has formed over the south pole.
Cassini has been observing Saturn and its most interesting moons since 2004, and recently celebrated the 15th anniversary since its launch. The probe is currently on its third and final mission. In September 2017, it is scheduled to enter Saturn’s atmosphere, where it will be “crushed and vaporized” by the planet’s atmosphere.
(Images courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)