What’s blue and gold and has six sides? If you said a “blue and gold hexagon”, congratulations, you’re a genius! But you’d be an even bigger genius if you’d said “the Hexagon”, the nickname for a massive, yet orderly-shaped jetstream that hovers over Saturn’s north pole. While it was discovered back in the early 80s, it’s only recently that NASA has been able to snap high-res photos of it with colour filters.
We have the rad skills of the Cassini Orbiter to thank for this lovely image, or more accurately, series of images, of which an animated version exists in GIF form. Like us human photographers, Cassini and NASA had to wait for the right lighting conditions, as well as ideal positioning of the orbiter, in order to take shots at this resolution — the highest ever. Saturn has its own seasons, with these shots acquired during the planet’s northern spring, which started in August 2009 and will last nine years.
According to NASA’s description of the images, it took 10 hours to get just eight frames of the jetstream, which were captured in December of last year.
As to why it’s a hexagon? My theory is it’s a swarm of nanites. They finished devouring whatever advanced civilisation resided on Saturn millennia ago and now they’re just waiting for an opportunity to hitch a lift back to Earth and yum our molecules up.