Running Rings Around Saturn


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Cassini has now begun the initial stages of a mission that raises the prospect of getting to view some of the most spectacular images yet ever captured in the history of space exploration.

The aptly-named "ring-grazing orbits" mission will over the next few months be passing directly through the faintest sections of the rings and sample particles and gases as well as studying the Saturnian atmosphere in unprecedented detail.

Here's a little taster below: Saturn' s north pole with its hexagonal jet-stream feature, the first image beamed back from Cassini' s new orbit:


Cassini Beams Back First Images from New Orbit
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OOOH that is a brilliant pic Incubus nice one. I had no idea about the 'hexagonal jet-stream feature', which is unsurprising given my ignorance of the finer details of planet meteorology. But I'm interested, very. Huge fan of hexagons in all their glory, natural and otherwise (as my avatar hints at), so I'll look into that with gusto. Hexagons have a way of popping up where you'd least expect them :)
Well they only discovered it a few years ago vintly the first time Cassini took a trip above the planet' s equatorial plane. When the guys at control room first saw it they were all astonished. Perfect geometrical forms are a human construct. They don't exist in nature. So when they saw this polygon-shaped vortex feature with perfectly even sides on Saturn's north pole it just looked spooky and unnatural. Couldn't quite get their heads around it.
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Read a bit about it now, how computer models have managed to create basically the same shape. It appears in the model that a curving eastward jet stream can be 'bounced' into a hexagonal shape through 'small perturbations in the jet - the kind one might expect from jostling with other air currents'. Fascinating.

Hexagons are all over nature. Honeycomb, snowflakes and compound eyes being notable six-sided champions. Getting down to the cellular level they appear everywhere, from human eye cells to neuron firing patterns, and even deeper at the molecular level in metals and many other substances. Take a 2p coin, surround it with 2p coins. You need exactly six. Imagine a cross-section through a bubbly medium. You'll be slicing through bubbles that have six bubbles around them etc etc. Hexagons make sense, they're strong, they're efficient, they balance, they simply work. I love 'em.
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