SCIENCE

Images Show That Saturn's North Polar Region Has Changed Color

NASA wants to know why.

NASA researchers are trying to figure out why Saturn’s hexagonal north polar region has changed color over the past four years.

Saturn’s hexagon is a six-sided jet stream barrier, according to scientists, who have proposed various theories to explain its shape.

In one image NASA shared, from 2012, the hexagon appears to be bluish. But in another photo taken four years later, it looks golden.

Images of Saturn's north polar hexagon, which appears bluish in 2012 and more golden in 2016.
Images of Saturn's north polar hexagon, which appears bluish in 2012 and more golden in 2016.

Saturn’s changing seasons and increased exposure to sunlight might have caused the color change, scientists theorize.

“During the polar winter night between November 1995 and August 2009, Saturn’s north polar atmosphere became clear of aerosols produced by photochemical reactions ― reactions involving sunlight and the atmosphere,” NASA explained on its website.

“Since the planet experienced equinox in August 2009, the polar atmosphere has been basking in continuous sunshine, and aerosols are being produced inside of the hexagon, around the north pole, making the polar atmosphere appear hazy today,” the website stated.

Both images were obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which launched in 1997 and orbits Saturn, studying the planet and its moons.

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