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Spectacular New Views of Saturn's Polar Vortex

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the mind-the-undertow dept.

Space 49

sighted writes "Today the robotic spacecraft Cassini returned some jaw-dropping images of the odd hexagon in the planet's north polar region. The hexagon has been seen before, but the change of season has more fully revealed the feature in visible light. Cassini also zoomed in on the churning vortex at the north pole itself. The south pole features a similar maelstrom."

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I want stereoscopic (4, Interesting)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year and a half ago | (#42114113)

What an incredible image, I'd love to see it as a stereoscopic image to really capture the depth of the clouds. Shouldn't be too hard - at orbital speeds two images taken a few seconds apart should capture incredible depth while the storm is unlikely to have changed significantly.

Re:I want stereoscopic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42114167)

I agree, absolutely spectacular.

Fractals !! (2)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about a year and a half ago | (#42114797)

When I looked at the pictures I saw fractals.

Very very complex fractals.

Hopefully one day some brainy guy can come out with a 3D fractal program that can simulate this absolute wonder.

Re:I want stereoscopic (2)

sighted (851500) | about a year and a half ago | (#42119893)

I don't know if anyone has made that happen yet, but someone did put together this animation of the rotation: http://cchh023.tumblr.com/image/36728440116 [tumblr.com]

Re:I want stereoscopic (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year and a half ago | (#42124719)

That's pretty awesome in it's own right. Thanks.

weather (4, Funny)

swell (195815) | about a year and a half ago | (#42114127)

Yeah, it's been wild here too.

Re:weather (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42114557)

I don't think you fathom quite how gigantic this storm is: Hint: The thing could swallow the whole earth like a tornado swallows a cow, or your mom swallows a cow.

Re:weather (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42115281)

I don't think you fathom quite how gigantic this storm is: Hint: The thing could swallow the whole earth like a tornado swallows a cow, or your mom swallows a cow.

I don't get it, wouldn't your mom swallow a bull

Re:weather (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42115763)

I take everything in powers of 0, except 0 of course I have a limit there.

Re:weather (1)

swell (195815) | about a year and a half ago | (#42124943)

That may well be, but while the wind and rain were beating on the windows,
I had to comfort my girlfriend all night. Poor thing.
She does look perkier this morning tho.

"If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"
" ... full of sound and fury, signifying nothing ... "

Pacman Returns (0)

mvar (1386987) | about a year and a half ago | (#42114187)

There's also this [sciencedirect.com] report on some electron-generated thermal anomaly on Saturn's moon Tethys

Re:Pacman Returns (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42114905)

That is just the farcaster to Tau Ceti Center.

Re:Pacman Returns (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42115655)

nice pay article . did you sell one to your grandma and grandpa ?
who would buy that ? im thinking a very proud relative and thats about it?

Re:Pacman Returns (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about a year and a half ago | (#42116323)

Someone piss on your cornflakes today?

Re:Pacman Returns (1)

JoeRobe (207552) | about a year and a half ago | (#42116685)

Welcome to the world of scientific research. It's a scientific article, which are almost always behind a paywall. ScienceDirect (operated by publisher Elsevier) is one of the largest scientific journal conglomerates. Universities pay 10's of thousands of dollars every year, if not more, to give their researchers access to these journals. So the authors make no money on it, but Elsevier makes loads on these articles.

Amazing pictures... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42114575)

See research done by Ana Claudia Barbosa Aguiar and Peter Read at Oxford in 2010. They were able to recreate this phenomenon in the lab. It has to do with interaction the rotating atmosphere of Saturn with a jet stream near the pole. By adjusting the speed of revolution of the jet stream they were able to create pretty much any desired shape.

When seeing such images, I wonder... (1)

vikingpower (768921) | about a year and a half ago | (#42114607)

....when human beings, if ever, will get to see such things directly with their own eyes. How far away are such times ?

Re:When seeing such images, I wonder... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42114645)

That will vary depending on if the ones who are to go see it are picky about making it back.

Re:When seeing such images, I wonder... (2)

SecurityTheatre (2427858) | about a year and a half ago | (#42114687)

This is a pretty salient comment, although it's certainly possible to go to Saturn and back, the technical hurdles are pretty astounding and would require some substantial developments in a number of areas.

However, if there's no intention to make the return trip, humans could go as far as Saturn with existing technology.

Re:When seeing such images, I wonder... (2)

MartinSchou (1360093) | about a year and a half ago | (#42115965)

I'm pretty sure we can go to Saturn and back with existing technology - it's just a matter of being willing to pay for it.

It's not like it's impossible for us to park a few million or billion ton of rocket fuel in orbit (or however much is needed for a round trip) - it's just extremely expensive to do so.

Same with building a properly shielded capsule for the crew to be aboard.

Re:When seeing such images, I wonder... (1)

Fr33z0r (621949) | about a year and a half ago | (#42117919)

You'd lose too much bone density on a round-trip to Saturn, you could make it there, sure, but you wouldn't be coming home.

Re:When seeing such images, I wonder... (1)

SecurityTheatre (2427858) | about a year and a half ago | (#42118625)

Agreed, that does seem like it may take 3 or 4 years to get there.... Not sure anyone has ever spent that long in space.... It seems maybe with some artificial gravity (spinning disc?) it could be done, but then you have the problem of building a pretty massive ship that's still micrometeor and radiation shielded. It would probably involved something about 20x more complicated than the ISS and that's still not counting all the fuel. Rocket fuel is a diminishing returns problem, where carrying thousands of tons makes you burn a pretty substantial portion of it just getting that much fuel into motion in the first place...

Daunting problem trying to figure out how to have enough to return.

OK, maybe not impossible, but would require a substantial portion of GDP to make it happen.

Re:When seeing such images, I wonder... (2)

Greyfox (87712) | about a year and a half ago | (#42116917)

You mean out a spacecraft window? Even if we go there and an astronaut decides to go for a spacewalk, how different is that going to feel from seeing it on your monitor, really? If we told you we were sending you to Saturn and then stuffed you into an underground complex and simulated the ride, do you think you'd be able to tell the difference? Well I mean other than the gravity thing... There's a lot of stuff between you and space in a spacecraft. Over the course of a few months, I suspect the trip would go from exciting to routine to rather boring pretty quickly.

With the images from Curiosity, I've felt a bit of awe over these images from an entirely new planet that mankind has never walked on and may never walk on in my lifetime. It's as close as I'm ever going to come to seeing the surface of a different world personally. If I were looking for some exploration, I think I'd rather spend my remaining years exploring the islands of the South Pacific. More... wossisname... breathable atmosphere... over there.

Re:When seeing such images, I wonder... (1)

Golddess (1361003) | about a year and a half ago | (#42125521)

If we told you we were sending you to Saturn and then stuffed you into an underground complex and simulated the ride, do you think you'd be able to tell the difference?

I think it's less about the physical journey from Earth to Saturn, and more about the.. life journey, for lack of a better phrase, of humanity as a species that would enable us to go there in the first place.

No color? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42114937)

This is an amazing image, but why isn't it in color?

Re:No color? (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42116213)

This is an amazing image, but why isn't it in color?

Because color is for pussies. Astronomers use either plain gray-scale imaging, or, perhaps even more often, a set of filters to extract bands or wavelengths of interest. The problem is, all colors assigned to a filtered gray-scale image or a combination thereof are usually false colors, since they generally don't correspond to the sensitivity bands of the retinal cones in your eye. The false colors are often useful, but you'd complain the same ("the colors look weird!"). Fairly rarely do astronomers take a veritable RGB combination - they usually do it when a major press release is on horizon, to have some nice pics for the lay public. ;-)

Re:No color? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42116595)

Well, not so much for pussies as it is, perhaps, more useful for the scientist who will work with this images to use different parts of the spectrum and, like you say, maybe some parts that are not normally visible to the human eye.

Also, maybe this B&W camera (or whatever type of filtering it's using) is more reliable to send in a space probe that far out into space...or just to relay the information back to Earth to be used. I'm not saying it's not possible to send color data back or that it's easier/harder than this.

Re:No color? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42117979)

...to use different parts of the spectrum and, like you say, maybe some parts that are not normally visible to the human eye.

It's not just that you can cover different parts of the spectrum than you usually see with your eyes. It's simply the fact that even if you use filters that do cover the RGB parts of the spectrum, but do it in a different way than the retinal cones, you'll end up - after reconstructing the image either in print or on an RGB monitor - with a picture that has distorted colors. Two different shades of green (as you see them with your own eyes) can end up looking identical in the reproduction, or the other way round - the different spectral sensitivity of the camera will show a "single" shade of green as being actually varying across the picture. That's interesting from the POV of an artist, but not much else. For astronomic science, RGB is mostly worthless.

Also, maybe this B&W camera (or whatever type of filtering it's using) is more reliable to send in a space probe that far out into space...

The problem is that once you build a single-exposure color camera (with a fixed filter integrated in front of each and every pixel), you end up with being able to do only RGB images. You'd need a second camera for everything else. You can use additional filters - photographers do this all the time - but for the purpose of scientific measurements, you're screwed. (Feel free to contemplate the difficulty of assessing the intensity of a single spectral wavelength along two spatial coordinates (e.g., an image) using an RGB camera and a monochromatic filter.)

or just to relay the information back to Earth to be used. I'm not saying it's not possible to send color data back or that it's easier/harder than this.

There's no practical difference here.

Re:No color? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about a year and a half ago | (#42116413)

Because they haven't coloured it in yet, seriously the images are composed of specific wavelengths, the 'negative" is a grey scale of the intensity, the different wavelength negatives are stacked to form the raw B&W image in the link. Different colour sets are used to highlight different features, bonus points are awarded if it's also a pretty picture.

Re:No color? (1)

progician (2451300) | about a year and a half ago | (#42116463)

It's because using telescopes on such a vast distances corrupts the colour. Remember, that the colours we can see, and appreciate are bound in to a narrow band of frequencies, and taking pictures on a single frequency make better pictures. Of course, you could do 3 distinct images, in the red, green, blue frequency bands, but by that time you make three photos, Cassini changes its position considerably, hence the photos will not cover the same angle. It's fairly big thing to get a single frequency band photograph with proper exposition time. Earth based amateur astronomers do the same thing: take photos of a celestial object with different different filters, and later combine the photos. However, they have the benefit not to observe much large angle change as the Cassini orbiting Saturn.

What about the other planets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42115159)

It would be pretty cool, for instance, to see a pic of the polar vortex of Uranus.

Re:What about the other planets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42115701)

It would be pretty cool, for instance, to see a pic of the polar vortex of Uranus.

I'm sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2620 to end that stupid joke once and for all.

Re:What about the other planets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42116575)

I'm not sure if the OP meant it as a joke. It really would be cool and of immense scientific interest to send a well-packaged probe right into the center of Uranus.

Re:What about the other planets? (1)

AlejoHausner (1047558) | about a year and a half ago | (#42122413)

Only the Voyager 2 probe flew past Uranus, and I don't think it took pictures of the poles. The Galileo probe orbited Jupiter for many years, but I don't think its orbit was high enough (in terms of latitude) to get clear views of the poles. For example, this site includes a polar view of Jupiter: http://thebigfoto.com/jupiter-from-space [thebigfoto.com] but it's a composite of many pictures, and the fuzziness of the polar region suggests that it's a re-projection of oblique views taken from a lower-latitude images.

Re:What about the other planets? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42128071)

Only the Voyager 2 probe flew past Uranus, and I don't think it took pictures of the poles

Why do you say that? Given Uranus' axial tilt of 90+ degrees and the fact that Voyager 2 flew around it in a plane roughly parallel to the ecliptic, I'd say it would be a work for art for Voyager 2 to take a series of pictures of Uranus without capturing at least one of the poles at least once (that is, with an angle of incidence, say, less than 40 degrees). There was a summer solstice on Uranus' south pole in 1986, which means that this picture [wikipedia.org] should have the south pole somewhere near the center, or perhaps in the top right quadrant of the planet's disk.

A much greater problem is that there is not much to see there. Uranus' appearance is very bland, compared to the other gas giants in the Solar system.

Re:What about the other planets? (1)

AlejoHausner (1047558) | about a year and a half ago | (#42131631)

(Slaps forehead)

Wow (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year and a half ago | (#42115711)

Gorgeous! Now... someone said something about a planet or some such? All I could see was the redhead.

Re:Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42116765)

You, sir/madam, would have received a mod point if I had any to give. I had to make a Will save to get to the rest of the article.

Alien Base!! (2)

b_dover (773956) | about a year and a half ago | (#42116105)

A hexagon!? Clearly that has to be the work of intelligent beings. There must be some sort of alien presence on Saturn. The clouds probably hide the base they have used to observe for centuries. I hope the History channel's Ancient Aliens puts some of their first class investigative journalists and deductive scientists on this right away.

Re:Alien Base!! (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42116225)

A hexagon!? Clearly that has to be the work of intelligent beings.

Of course, what did you think? Even aliens need a Department of Defense.

Re:Alien Base!! (1)

cellocgw (617879) | about a year and a half ago | (#42119233)

The hexagon was placed there by the Kuiper Anomaly (cf. Stephen Baxter, "Coalescent")

Obvious explanation (3, Funny)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | about a year and a half ago | (#42116845)

There is a large Hex nut holding the poles together - and you call yourselves scientists?

hexagon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42117333)

Although not at all scientific, I can think of a reason why a hexagonal storm pattern might emerge in a magnetically charged atmosphere.
Take a string of buckey-balls, those are the tiny magnetic balls the size of ball bearings, and try to create a disc with the string. You will inevitably get a hexagon instead. It could be that magnetically charged particles may naturally arrange themselves in a hexagonal pattern when spun.
 

Re:hexagon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42118019)

Is this pattern on other planets? For instance, is there a hexagon seen if we look straight down on Uranus?

Re:hexagon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42118149)

Although not at all scientific, I can think of a reason why a hexagonal storm pattern might emerge in a magnetically charged atmosphere. Take a string of buckey-balls, those are the tiny magnetic balls the size of ball bearings, and try to create a disc with the string. You will inevitably get a hexagon instead. It could be that magnetically charged particles may naturally arrange themselves in a hexagonal pattern when spun.

Or it's because Bucky Balls are not smooth, but rather polyhedra.

Neat guess, though.

Re:hexagon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42119297)

That has more to do with dense packing of spheres instead of magnetism. Take any pile of spherical objects and throw it in a container, and you will see lots of hexagons. If you had a bunch of magnetic cubes, they would tend to form rectangular shapes when packed densely. And if you end up with small enough spheres, the overall shape could just be a blob or circle or whatever depending on the situation and how well the packing of the spheres maintains the hexagonal structure. And if you are picturing small particles or atoms as being spheres, just look at all the different shapes atoms can make in nature that are not hexagons...

My first thoughts on seeing something like that is it just a wave pattern going around the pole. It looks like just some fluid dynamics instability that happens to be exciting a n=6 mode (due to whatever parameters of the gases and sizes involved). Such things show up in experiments with rotating fluids all the time, especially plasma physics experiments in various axisymmetric shapes, although there are plenty of such instabilities in regular fluid mechanics without magnetic and electric fields.

I have a list (1)

perceptual.cyclotron (2561509) | about a year and a half ago | (#42125133)

And this is easily my favourite vortex.
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