Saturn's polar vortex makes this winter look like a trip to Fiji

NASA has released a new image of the superstorm at the top of the ringed planet. Imagine what this thing could do to traffic in Atlanta.

Saturn's insane hexagonal polar vortex. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

This year's notorious polar vortex caused plenty of cold, pain, and suffering for folks across the continent (and allowed Northerners the opportunity to chuckle at the 2-inch snowpocalypse that brought Atlanta to its knees), but that's small snowflakes compared with the rest of our solar system, Saturn in particular.

NASA released the above image of Saturn's remarkable hexagonal polar jet stream on Monday, although it was taken by the Cassini spacecraft from its position 1.6 million miles above the ringed planet in November of last year.

A strange swirling hexagon. (Click to enlarge.) NASA

We've known about this crazy phenomenon for some time, but the position of Saturn with relation to the sun and Cassini's orientation has allowed higher-resolution photos to be taken in recent months.

Zoom in on this strange weather feature and you'll see that there's quite literally a polar vortex in its center, with a massive hurricane sitting right on top of the planet's north pole. NASA estimates the eye of this storm to be about 50 times larger than the average eye of an Earth hurricane.

Moving out from the center, the literal polar vortex is surrounded by numerous other spinning vortices, the largest of which is over 2,000 miles wide. As for the winds generated by these storms, they're fastest at the inner ring, with speeds of about 340 mph. That's one heck of a superstorm.

To human eyes, the hexagon and north pole would appear in tones of gold and blue.

There is the potential for payoff on a planet with an atmosphere that can be so unrelentingly violent, however -- if you believe the hypothesis that the high pressures found on Saturn could literally cause it to hail diamonds on the planet.

I bet few people in Atlanta would be complaining if that's how the recent weather-created traffic snarl ended -- with a rain of diamonds onto windshields.

 

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