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Cassini Probes the Hexagon On Saturn

kdawson posted about 7 years ago | from the monoliths dept.

Space 280

Riding with Robots sends us to a NASA page with photos of a little-understood hexagonal shape surrounding Saturn's north pole. "This is a very strange feature, lying in a precise geometric fashion with six nearly equally straight sides," said Kevin Baines, member of Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team. "We've never seen anything like this on any other planet." This structure was discovered by the Voyager probes over 20 years ago (here's an 18-year-old note on the mystery). The fact that it's still in place means it is stable and long-lived. Scientists have no idea what causes the hexagon. It's nearly big enough to fit four earths inside — comfortably larger than Jupiter's Great Red Spot. The article has an animation of clouds moving within the hexagon captured in infrared light.

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280 comments

North Pole? (5, Funny)

ArcherB (796902) | about 7 years ago | (#18507127)

The Saturn North Pole? Isn't that where Saturn Clause lives? Maybe he has something to do with it.

Re:North Pole? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18507605)

I, for one, welcome our new hexagonal-shaped structure-building alien santa clause overlords.

Mmmm, elves... (1)

kale77in (703316) | about 7 years ago | (#18507867)

The Saturn North Pole? Isn't that where Saturn Clause lives? Maybe he has something to do with it.

Yes, that'll be Saturn Claus, devouring a few stray elves [usc.edu] now that the kids are gone. It's most likely a big hexagonal bloodstain...

/. story about spinning water? (5, Insightful)

spun (1352) | about 7 years ago | (#18507131)

Wasn't there a story here within the last six months or so about spinning a bucket of water at the right speed and having it form geometric forms, including a hexagon?

Re:/. story about spinning water? (1)

Janek Kozicki (722688) | about 7 years ago | (#18507171)

yes, exactly my thoughts too. There was a story about that. He who finds the link gets the karma :)

Re:/. story about spinning water? (5, Informative)

sfcfagwdse (805746) | about 7 years ago | (#18507193)

Re:/. story about spinning water? (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | about 7 years ago | (#18507815)

The curious thing, though, is that the south pole is very different -- almost looks like a human eye [space.com] . I wonder what sort of rotational effect could cause such an asymmetry between north and south poles?

Re:/. story about spinning water? (4, Informative)

samkass (174571) | about 7 years ago | (#18507197)

Typing "spinning water hexagon Slashdot" into Google turned up this article [slashdot.org]

Re:/. story about spinning water? (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 7 years ago | (#18507927)

Eh, the mechanism probably wouldn't hold, but the fact that these shapes can be generated in a liquid by a rotating body is pretty suggestive, when we see the same thing writ large. Seems like it has to be the expression of a somewhat similar physical phenomenon, though how the hell we'll test it I have no idea.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (2, Insightful)

greg_barton (5551) | about 7 years ago | (#18508143)

...though how the hell we'll test it I have no idea.

Which is why such speculation is somewhat useless.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18507203)

Wasn't there a story here within the last six months or so about spinning a bucket of water at the right speed and having it form geometric forms, including a hexagon?

http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060515/full/060515 -17.html [nature.com]

Posted AC so as not to be accused of being a karma whore.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (1)

spun (1352) | about 7 years ago | (#18507279)

Oh come on! Sometimes you deserve the karma, you know. But thanks, whoever you are!

Re:/. story about spinning water? (5, Interesting)

omnilynx (961400) | about 7 years ago | (#18507273)

Another related possibility is spherical harmonics [wikipedia.org] , similar to what happens in the sun. The planet would be effectively resonating like a 3D drumhead. If that's true, there should be other points on the surface that exhibit similar phenomena.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (1)

spun (1352) | about 7 years ago | (#18507393)

That link made my brain hurt. I wish I knew more math. Can spherical harmonics make a six sided figure? It didn't look like it from the wiki page, but aside from the pictures, I'd have no way of knowing.

That spinning water thing seems like a plausible explanation, though, as some parts of a gas giants atmosphere spin faster than others. Different rotational speeds in the band just below the pole might act like the wall in the bucket and cause a similar geometric effect.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (1)

omnilynx (961400) | about 7 years ago | (#18507495)

Yes, it can. Further down the page, check out the "l=3, m=3, l-m=0" graphic. It's like a six-sided beach ball. More complicated structures can also be induced.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (1)

honkycat (249849) | about 7 years ago | (#18507877)

Spherical harmonics form a "complete basis" for functions on a sphere. This means you can represent any suitably smooth function as a sum of these harmonics. Here, "suitably smooth" is my stand-in for a precise mathematical requirement -- probably continuous and continuously differentiable, but I don't remember for sure off-hand. Basically, as long as your function doesn't have discrete jumps in it, you can expand it in spherical harmonics.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (1)

honkycat (249849) | about 7 years ago | (#18507985)

Oh wait, I'm a moron. They're not a complete basis, except for the angular dependence of solutions to Laplace's equation so the restriction on the function is substantially tighter than I suggested. Never mind. Please mod me -1: hasn't done real math in too long.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (1)

Somnus (46089) | about 7 years ago | (#18507585)

Systems that show such behavior are always "rigid," and so are forced to be ordered. In the case of a drum head it's the tension and the immobility of the boundary; the sun, the strong fusion-driven magnetic dynamics in play with the strong gravity. In quantum systems like superfluids and Fermi liquids, you get this for "free" due to quantization.

Is Saturn, a neutral, non-nuclear gas giant, similarly constrained? If so, fascinating.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (2, Interesting)

omnilynx (961400) | about 7 years ago | (#18507881)

Well, after doing some actual research on this, it looks like there are some possible contributors to spherical harmonics on Saturn, but that probably isn't the source of the hexagonal structure, since a similar structure does not appear at the south pole [aas.org] . Apparently it's probably due to a polar jet, similar to the ripples you see around a bathtub drain.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (1)

alcmaeon (684971) | about 7 years ago | (#18507325)

You know, the similar stories from Denmark would have been more interesting if they had spun the container instead of putting an agitator into the middle of the water.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (5, Informative)

spun (1352) | about 7 years ago | (#18507457)

Maybe the solid core is acting like the agitator? Perhaps there are rougher features at the northern pole than there are at the southern, explaining why there is no southern hexagon. The article says the hexagon rotates at the same speed as radio emissions from Saturn, which they assume is the same speed as the core rotates.

Re:/. story about spinning water? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18507601)

There was once a theory that the center of Jupiter was giant diamond crystal. From some orientations, a diamond crystal has a hexagon shape. Maybe we are seeing the eddy currents of a summerged diamond here.

Cassini Probes the Hexagon On Saturn (0)

The Zon (969911) | about 7 years ago | (#18507151)

It's nearly big enough to fit four earths inside -- comfortably larger than Jupiter's Great Red Spot.
You're just posting this story for the sex jokes. Admit it.

it must be (4, Funny)

unfortunateson (527551) | about 7 years ago | (#18507167)

space bees

Re:it must be bees (4, Funny)

saskboy (600063) | about 7 years ago | (#18507485)

I agree, the only logical conclusion is that Saturn has been colonized by giant space bees who have made it their honey comb hive.

Re:it must be bees (3, Funny)

istartedi (132515) | about 7 years ago | (#18507865)

Well, everybody knows that: honeycomb big, yeah, yeah, yeah. If only these scientists had just taken the time to watch Saturday morning cartoons, or Futurama.

Re:it must be bees (1)

srmalloy (263556) | about 7 years ago | (#18508073)

Unless Grant Callin was more prophetic than he would believe and the Hexies of Tharthee (from his novels Saturn Alia [amazon.com] and A Lion on Tharthee [amazon.com] ) really exist... in which case there's a plaque down there with information inscribed on it.

Actually (1)

einhverfr (238914) | about 7 years ago | (#18507913)

It is a secret US military presence, designed to be the successor to the Pentagon in the event of a global catastrophe.

OOps, I was not supposed to say that. Are those black suburbans pulling up in my driveway?

Re:the honey comb hideout! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18508119)

Honey Comb's big!(4 earths) Yeah, yeah, yeah! It's not small...no, no, no!

intelligent life (4, Funny)

BigHungryJoe (737554) | about 7 years ago | (#18507187)

With Fife Symington coming forward and saying that the Phoenix Lights from 1997 were actually an "other worldly craft" - how much longer can we believe ourselves to be alone in the universe?

It's obvious to me, as a trained ufologist, that this is not a natural phenomenon. This hexagonal structure was BUILT by intelligent life.

Re:intelligent life (5, Funny)

CRCulver (715279) | about 7 years ago | (#18507247)

It's obvious to me, as a trained ufologist, that this is not a natural phenomenon.

It looks like this is the moment that years of hard work at the Correspondence College of Tampa prepared you for. Congratulations. (end obscure Simpsons reference).

Typo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18507285)

It's obvious to me, as a trained oafologist, that this is not a natural phenomenon

There, fixed that for ya

Re:intelligent life... where? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18507327)

I, for one, welcome our hexagonal overlords...

no seriously...

spin a bucket of water.

take some acid.

write a thesis. ... ?

PROFIT!

A geometric shape in space... and it's not a sphere!?? THIS IS NEWS!

Re:intelligent life (2, Informative)

jonadab (583620) | about 7 years ago | (#18507483)

> This hexagonal structure was BUILT by intelligent life.

Did you read the article? It's not a stationary solid structure. It's a long-term atmospheric feature, like Jupiter's great red spot, only shaped like a hexagon.

Re:intelligent life (5, Funny)

stratjakt (596332) | about 7 years ago | (#18507805)

Intelligent life couldn't "build" a long-term atmospheric feature?

What are we to make of Lando's cloud city?

THINK ABOUT LANDO FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE YOU RACIST

Re:intelligent life (2, Funny)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 7 years ago | (#18507813)

Did you minor in bad science-ology? There are about ten links above you who show how the same shapes can be made in liquid water with a spinning plate...this suggests that the spinning of Saturn's core could very well be creating the same effect in the dense atmosphere.

But let's not waste any opportunity in jumping to conclusions, because, as everyone knows, there are no [scottcamazine.com] straight [aliki.co.uk] lines [juniata.edu] in [howstuffworks.com] nature [olegvolk.net] .

Why is it all the UFO freaks have no grasp of science? Why does that follow?

raaarrrrrgh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18508125)

you have NO EVIDENCE

SCIENCE says this thing EVOLVED from a simple LINE

WHY DO YOU HATE EUCLID

Re:intelligent life (1)

hxnwix (652290) | about 7 years ago | (#18508145)

Hehe, I like these sarcastic posts. So many people will get it wrong - you are inviting us to draw the inference that, like the Phoenix lights, the hexagon is caused by "flares dropped during a USAF training exercise." Clearly, this makes no sense.

Aliens are therefore responsible for both phenomenon.

Better than the 'Face' on Mars (2, Insightful)

skywire (469351) | about 7 years ago | (#18507217)

WIth something like this to get excited about, who needs the "Face on Mars"?

gov!!! (1)

blakmac (987934) | about 7 years ago | (#18507259)

it's kind of like the alien's version of the pentagon. except with more sides. which means more brainpower can fit into the building. you should start to worry when geometric shapes begin to show up on uranus.

The Monolith! (1)

FMota91 (1050752) | about 7 years ago | (#18507269)

*dons tinfoil hat*

Aha! So that's where it was!

But wasn't it supposed to be rectangular? Oh well, this will do. Just wait till it starts sucking the atmosphere in.

Re:The Monolith! (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about 7 years ago | (#18508121)

Who says monoliths must be rectangular?

Anyway, would be funny if after they send a probe there the NASA engineers exclaim "Its full of stars!"

Thwarting the Terrorists (2, Funny)

Grashnak (1003791) | about 7 years ago | (#18507409)

They may have gotten to our Pentagon, but I damn well double dare them to try and strike at our hexagon!

Nothing to see here... (2, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 7 years ago | (#18507423)

These are just tool marks left by the builders on Magrathea. Nothing to see here; please move along...

Re:Nothing to see here... (1)

Clever7Devil (985356) | about 7 years ago | (#18507925)

It seems it wasn't the galactic stock market after all. The Magratheans were forced into hibernation by much more insidious foes: Crafty Allen Wrench Salesmen.

A truly bizzare hexagon (5, Funny)

Suzumushi (907838) | about 7 years ago | (#18507449)

From TFA, "This nighttime view of Saturn's north pole shows a bizarre six-sided hexagon"

Last time I checked, all hexagons had six sides...

Re:A truly bizzare hexagon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18507907)

Oh, sure, maybe in your perfect universe.

In the real world we have to count every time to be certain.

Fortress of Solitude (3, Funny)

alienmole (15522) | about 7 years ago | (#18507497)

Superman had to abandon his Earth-based Fortress of Solitude, which was starting to melt due to global warming, not to mention all the annoying scientific expeditions coming by to drill for ice cores. He figured he'd try Saturn's north pole for a change. The commute's a bit longer, but there's less traffic.

The top photo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18507543)

makes it look like a portal to Hell.

Wicked cool (1)

Noexit (107629) | about 7 years ago | (#18507625)

That's what I'd imagine hell to look like. Perhaps it's a giant industro-military office building?

I see pattern (5, Funny)

Al Al Cool J (234559) | about 7 years ago | (#18507637)

Saturn is the sixth planet out.
A hexagon has six sides.
There is a second hexagon inside the first. Another six sides.

6-6-6

Hmmm, that number kind of has a ring to it. And so does Saturn.

Coincidence?

Re:I see pattern (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18507795)

sorry to break tihs apolyptic thing, but saturn hs 6 letters in its name. That's 4 sixes. It doesn't work anymore.

Besides that, you're forgetting just about everything written about that number.

Re:I see pattern (1)

GooberToo (74388) | about 7 years ago | (#18508077)

I know this is a joke but wasn't it semi-recently published that "666" is thought to be an invalid translation and the correct number is really "616" and/or "665"?

http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTI CLE_ID=44169 [worldnetdaily.com]
http://www.csad.ox.ac.uk/POxy/beast616.htm [ox.ac.uk]

The above are links from some quick googling. ;) I saw they were topical but didn't actually read them.

Ya I know...it spoils the joke. :(

Blend Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18507641)

Hasn't anyone else ever looked at the patterns that appear in the bottom of a running blender when you are making a shake?

So Stanley Kubrick... (1)

d3m0nCr4t (869332) | about 7 years ago | (#18507705)

... was dead wrong, it wasn't Jupiter, it's Saturn. :p

Re:So Stanley Kubrick... (1)

stratjakt (596332) | about 7 years ago | (#18507893)

Jupiter has one too.

Contrary to popular belief, it's not unheard of for natural weather phenomena to form geometric patterns.

The eye of a hurricane is more hexagonal/octogonal than circular if you look at one, each "arm" of the hurricane sort of defines a side in the eye.

I can't find it (0, Redundant)

argStyopa (232550) | about 7 years ago | (#18507735)

But maybe someone can. I'm fuzzy on the details, but I'm sure I recall a story in the last year or so of someone (I think it was in Holland or Belgium?) spinning or stirring water at high speed in a vaccuum or some other odd pressure environment, and getting a wierd, six-way figure in the vortex when viewed from above?

Sorry, no time to search out the details, but maybe the mechanics of that might lend themselves to analyzing this?

Gah, they found it! (3, Funny)

Fweeky (41046) | about 7 years ago | (#18507781)

Do you have *any* idea how hard it is to find a parking space for that thing where some yob's not going to key it or deflate the tires or poke at it with a spectrograph? :(

I should have got the next model down, then I could have pretended it was just another moon, but nooooooo, I had to get the hexagonal UltraSUV because it was "different" and had more legroom.

Hm, wonder if that guy who owns Mimas would do a swap. His camo paint job looks *so* much less convincing after those stupid films.

Spore? (1)

Elouise (972935) | about 7 years ago | (#18507799)

See this is what happens when you let robin williams loose with spore - and he starts putting monoliths on planets... "The player may place a "monolith" (à la 2001: A Space Odyssey) on a planet, triggering evolution of intelligent life, then come back later to see what has evolved." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spore_(video_game) [wikipedia.org]

Bad UV mapping (1)

Have Blue (616) | about 7 years ago | (#18507863)

Guess the machines never thought we'd get that far away from the city. At least it's not a skybox.

2001 (1)

Diordna (815458) | about 7 years ago | (#18507889)

In other news, a monolith was unearthed in the Tycho crater on the moon yesterday and began emitting signals off into space...

It's the Magnetic field (1)

alexj33 (968322) | about 7 years ago | (#18507899)

The scientific explanation for this will undoubtedly be:

"It must be the magnetic field."

I, on the other hand, think it's just a huge snowflake.

Easy enough, Jupiter is Jewish (3, Funny)

roman_mir (125474) | about 7 years ago | (#18507997)

Both words, Jupiter and Jewish start from 'J' and hexagon can be used to depict the star of David. The mystery is solved and Jupiter should really be renamed into Jewpiter. Oh, and it's closed on Saturdays. The official anthem is 7:40

Sign of intelligent life (3, Funny)

ajnsue (773317) | about 7 years ago | (#18508011)

intelligent life beyond or solar system erected a giant stop sign indicating where it wants mankind to just slow down before it gets any big ideas about immigrating and lowering the galactic minimum wage.

Or, its warning sign placed there by the Vogon Constructor Fleet

Space puns galore (1)

sh4na (107124) | about 7 years ago | (#18508123)

The comment threads on this one definitely break some sort of record on number of puns per line. Nice to see such deep, significant scientific discussion! :)

hexagram has always been the symbol for Saturn (1)

gd23ka (324741) | about 7 years ago | (#18508133)

The hexagramm, the 6-pointed star has always been the occult mystery
school symbol for Saturn for thousands of years. Contrary to popular
believe, the hexagram is not just a jewish symbol but goes back thousands
of years to the mystery schools of old.

its just a frequence give off,..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18508135)

by the speed at which the object it rotating, check the RPM against the RPM of the water bucket device, match the shape, and you'll have the same speeds.
works with most liquid and gases.
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