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Saturn’s stunning north pole actually changed colors

Published May 25th, 2017 6:01PM EDT
saturn pole
Image: NASA

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NASA’s Cassini orbiter was the first to deliver a really clear look at the eye-catching, hexagonal storm swirling on Saturn’s north pole, so it’s only fitting that the craft has now delivered a photo of the peculiar phenomenon that adds a new layer of awe. As part of Cassini’s recent photo sweep, the orbiter took a nice long look at Saturn’s northernmost point once more and discovered that it has almost completely changed color. How’s that for a surprise?

Saturn’s seasons are really, really long. A single trip around the sun — what we think of as a year here on Earth — takes nearly thirty times as long for Saturn. Like many planets, Saturn’s surface undergoes changes as seasons progress and change, and since Cassini has been orbiting the planet since way back in 2004, the craft has had the opportunity to observe a full season, and all the dramatic changes that came with it.

One of those changes was the increase in what NASA refers to as “springtime hazes.” That haze is what makes the planet look a giant ball of blurry clouds, and an increase in haze at the north pole has caused the bluish-green hue of the massive hexagon to transition into a mix of dull brown and tan, with just a hint of green remaining in the very center of its eye.

It’s a fantastic observation, and a great example of the kind of amazing material we’ll be missing out on when Cassini ends its mission later this year.