When Cassini arrived at the Saturnian system in 2004, the southern hemisphere was enjoying summertime, while the north was in the midst of winter. The spacecraft spied a broad, warm, high-altitude vortex at Saturn’s southern pole, but none at the planet’s northern pole.
The vortex is akin to the famous hexagon seen deeper down in Saturn’s clouds. The edges of this newly-found vortex appear to be hexagonal, precisely matching a famous and bizarre hexagonal cloud pattern we see deeper down in Saturn’s atmosphere.
The results suggest that the lower-altitude hexagon may influence what happens above and that it could be a towering structure hundreds of miles in height.
This warm vortex sits hundreds of miles above the clouds, in the stratosphere.
Launched in 1997, the Cassini mission — a cooperation between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency — has sent back thousands of stunning images and made numerous discoveries about the ringed planet and its moons.
Cassini–Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn. Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit. Its design includes a Saturn orbiter and a lander for the moon Titan. The lander, called Huygens, landed on Titan in 2005. The spacecraft was launched on October 15, 1997. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System.
Objectives of the mission:
Determine the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the rings of Saturn.
Determine the composition of the satellite surfaces and the geological history of each object.
Determine the nature and origin of the dark material on Iapetus’s leading hemisphere.
Measure the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the magnetosphere.
Study the dynamic behavior of Saturn’s atmosphere at cloud level.
Study the time variability of Titan’s clouds and hazes.
Characterize Titan’s surface on a regional scale.