content long 24-October-2017 00:34:07

Winners Slovakia

13-15 years old: The hexagon at Saturn's north pole

 Author: Ondrej Gomola

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and second largest planet in the solar system. It is a gas giant with a radius about nine times as large as Earth’s. Studying Saturn’s unique features, processes and phenomena may help us to better comprehend the evolution of the solar system.

Firstly, we know that the hexagonal shape of Saturn’s north pole did not happen by chance; the shape’s outline is in fact a large jet stream. It is 30,000 kilometres across and winds inside it reach up to 322 kilometres an hour. We assume that the hexagon is blue due to gases in its atmosphere, most likely methane. Methane is an organic compound which indicates that simple bacteria may have evolved on Saturn. Optimally, a probe would be sent in to deny or confirm these facts. Secondly, it is known that the Cassini spacecraft will be finishing its orbits by slowly descending into Saturn’s atmosphere and then disappearing. I propose that the spacecraft is sent into the hexagon itself to collect data on its atmospheric construction using its instruments, particularly the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA).

One can see a large hurricane directly in the centre of the hexagon, Saturn’s magnetic north pole. This hurricane eye is gigantic, up to 50 times larger than the average hurricane on Earth. I suggest sending a probe into the eye of the hurricane; like the ‘hurricane hunters’ here on Earth, as we would be able to find out perhaps how long this hurricane had been going on for and why it started in the first place. For instance, sending a probe into the eye of the hurricane could reveal, quite literally, a ‘whole new world’ of science. In addition, the eye of the hurricane is said to be the calmest part of it. Thus, it can be the safest place to send in a probe, conceivably only as small as a CubeSat. This could reveal the constituents of the planet’s north pole and what we know from other planets, the north pole is usually a frozen gas (nitrogen) or perhaps even remnants of water and other biological materials.

Furthermore, a probe could also be sent into the north pole’s upper atmosphere, gradually falling towards the surface, taking measurements as it plummets down into its atmosphere. Knowing that the hexagon is similarly constructed to the ozone hole on Earth, we may be able to understand it in greater detail. The ozone hole on Earth is a region enclosed by a jet stream, just like Saturn’s hexagon. Therefore, we may be able to gain another perspective or a greater understanding of this phenomenon on our own planet.

I decided to focus on Saturn’s north pole as it is by far the most scientifically viable choice. Considering videos and stills of the hexagon in motion outlines that there is an equilibrium of forces on the edges of the hexagon, with chaos consuming everything from the edge to the hurricane’s rain bands.


Last Update: 19 May 2017

For further information please contact: SciTech.editorial@esa.int

Related Articles

See Also