The Strange Hexagon on Saturn Never Looked So Good (Photo)

Saturn Bathed in Sunlight
Sunlight bathes the entire northern hemisphere of Saturn, highlighting the hexagon-shaped jet-stream. NASA's Cassini spacecraft took this image with the wide-angle camera September 9, 2016. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

The bizarre hexagon on Saturn, it seems, is ready for its closeup. 

Last week, NASA unveiled the latest look at the weird hexagon-shaped vortex at Saturn's north pole as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. NASA released the image on Dec. 28, but Cassini actually snapped the picture on Sept. 9.

"The hexagon-shaped jet-stream is fully illuminated here," NASA officials wrote in an image description. "In this image, the planet appears darker in regions where the cloud deck is lower, such the region interior to the hexagon. Mission experts on Saturn's atmosphere are taking advantage of the season and Cassini's favorable viewing geometry to study this and other weather patterns as Saturn's northern hemisphere approaches summer solstice." [Saturn's Bizarre Hexagon in Photos]

The wide-angle camera on Cassini snapped this image including the sunlit side of Saturn's rings. The spacecraft was at about 51 degrees above Saturn's ring plane, and used a spectral filter using near-infrared light. Cassini was about 750,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Saturn when the image was taken, NASA officials added in the description. The image scale is 46 miles (74 km) per pixel.

NASA launched the Cassini mission to Saturn in 1997. The spacecraft arrived in orbit around Saturn in 2004 and has been studying the planet, as well as its rings, moons ever since.

In late 2016 Cassini began the final phase of its mission. Over the next several months the spacecraft will orbit Saturn more than 20 times, sending details of the moons and rings. Cassini will end its mission on Sept. 15, when it will be sent into an intentional death dive into the planet by mission flight controllers.

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Christine Lunsford
Producer and Contributing Writer

Christine Lunsford joined the team in 2010 as a freelance producer and later became a contributing writer, covering astrophotography images, astronomy photos and amazing space galleries and more. During her more than 10 years with, oversaw the site's monthly skywatching updates and produced overnight features and stories on the latest space discoveries. She enjoys learning about subjects of all kinds.