Beautiful photos captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft depict a bizarre color change around Saturn’s north pole. Currently, NASA is baffled regarding the change, however, they do have a few theories as to what could be causing the change.
Included in those theories is a possible link to seasonal changes and the planet’s massive hexagonal jet stream. Lying within Saturn’s the North Pole is a unique, six-sided jet stream known as the “hexagon” which is around 20,000 miles wide. Winds inside of the hexagon build to an impressive 200mph.
Scientists speculate that the color change could be associated with the jet stream if the hexagonal vortex is acting as a barrier, which would prevent surrounding particles from entering into the area. If this is the case, the sky over the North Pole would be cleared of a haze or any aerosols during the 7-year-long Saturnian winter, according to a statement made by NASA.
“Scientists are investigating potential causes for the change in color of the region inside the north-polar hexagon on Saturn,” NASA officials observed in a statement. “The color change is thought to be an effect of Saturn’s seasons. In particular, the change from a bluish color to a more golden hue may be due to the increased production of photo chemical hazes in the atmosphere as the north pole approaches summer solstice in May 2017.”
Photo chemical hazes and aerosols are created due to reactions made between the sun and the atmosphere. Saturn experienced an equinox in August 2009, and since this time, it has been subjected to continuous sun rays. Due to this, photo chemical aerosols have accumulated in the sky above the north pole, which would have created the haze observed today.
According to officials, other factors, including changes in heating and wind patterns could also cause a shift in the planet’s atmospheric circulation.
The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft which recorded the change has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. According to NASA, the mission will be coming to a close in September of 2017. Until then, researchers will continue to study the data collected in order to get a better understanding of the color change.