Haze Layers on Saturn are the Broadest Discovered So Far in the Solar System

Cassini spacecraft has captured some impressive images of Saturn that helped experts find the most extensive structure on haze layers in the Solar System. The high-resolution images collected by the probe were utilized for this intention by the Planetary Science Group at the University of the Basque Country.

There’s a rather broad selection of meteorological events taking place in the hydrogen-rich atmosphere of Saturn. These phenomena help astronomers learn about the ones that work in a similar way here on Earth‘s atmosphere.

A Unique Hexagon-Shaped Phenomena

One of the peculiar events discovered on Saturn is the well-known ‘hexagon,’ a unique wave system that sits in the planet’s polar region and whose shape is weirdly geometrical. First discovered by NASA‘s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1980, the phenomena has been tracked at all times since then.

Cassini photographed the event back in June 2015, enabling astronomers to take a look at the hazes, which are located above the clouds, and resemble a hexagon. The camera employed many color filters, which allowed for the structure of the hazes to be analyzed. Researchers have also used images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope 15 days later, which showed the hexagon from above, to make the analysis more precise.

“The Cassini images have enabled us to discover that, just as if a sandwich had been formed, the hexagon has a multi-layered system of at least seven mists that extend from the summit of its clouds to an altitude of more than 300 km above them,” said Professor Agustín Sánchez-Lavega, who led the research. “Other cold worlds, such as Saturn’s satellite Titan or the dwarf planet Pluto, also have layers of hazes, but not in such numbers nor as regularly spaced out.”

[Image: Cassini ISS NASA/ESA]
The vertical range of each haze measures about 7 and 18 kilometers (4 to 11 miles) in density, and according to the spectral inspection, they could contain ice crystallites, such as acetylene, propyne, propane, diacetylene, or even butane in the highest clouds.

Another factor examined by the team of researchers is the regularity of the vertical distribution of the hazes. The hypothesis they brought forward is that the hazes are located in accordance with the vertical propagation of gravity waves that cause alterations in the density and temperature of the atmosphere, a phenomenon that also happens on Earth and on other planets as well.

The team also took into consideration the chance that it could be the movements of the hexagon itself and its powerful jet stream that may be the cause of the categorization of the gravity waves. On our planet, these types of waves created by the changing jet stream traveling at speeds of 100 km/h (62 mi/h) from West to East in the mid-latitudes have also been observed.

According to the scientists, the event could be similar on both Saturn and Earth, even though the peculiarities of Saturn mean that it is the only instance so far discovered in the Solar System. This is a factor that needs more research.

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