What do the the seal on our dollar bill, the honeycomb and Saturn have in common?
A hexagon .
Saturn’s hexagon is a persistent cloud formation and weather pattern at the giant planet’s north pole that was first imaged nearly thirty years ago by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft. NASA’s newer spacecraft Cassini captures images currently. That both Voyager and Cassini have captured images speaks to the hexagon’s surprising longevity. The hexagon is 15,000 miles wide and according to NASA, could envelop nearly four Earths. Here is a NASA/JPL image of Saturn’s strange hexagon:
Saturn’s hexagon remained shrouded in mystery (a Bulwer-Lytton moment, can’t help myself) until Anna Barbosa Agular and her fellow Oxford University physicists simulated it in the laboratory. Apparently, the hexagon is similar to our Aurora Borealis in that it is a sort of magnetically influenced vortex of swirling winds, and it has been likened to the gigantic storm system on Jupiter, the Red Spot.
If geometry were a musical instrument it might be bagpipes: pure and mesmerizing. As a form of self-invented meditation and relaxation, I fold origami cranes. Sometimes I fold a crane and then unfold it, just to look at the geometric pattern creased into the paper. That geometry is so much a part of our art and architecture is not surprising. However, seeing a huge, dynamic hexagon on Saturn is enough to give one pause. I saw some references to a possible naming contest for the hexagon, but could not determine if it has a name yet. I might be tempted to call it Aurora (a light display) Cassiel (an angel mythologically associated with Saturn). If anyone can find the official name, please share it. For more information about the hexagon, including an image of the second hexagon and the laboratory simulation, go to:
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Compared to Earth, Saturn’s surface area is equivalent to 83.703 Earths; its volume, 763.59 Earths, and its mass, 95.152 Earths. Saturn is less dense than water, at 0.687 g/cm.³ Although Saturn has a small rocky core, one would be unable to stand on its surface because the core is surrounded by a thicker liquid metallic hydrogen layer, followed by a liquid hydrogen/helium layer and a gaseous atmosphere in the outermost 1000 km. Saturn – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Saturn is hence essentially a gaseous planet, as are Uranus, Neptune and the gas giant Jupiter; together they are called the Jovian (Jupiter-like) planets. All Jovian planets have rings. Saturn has nine rings and sixty-two moons. The day of the week named after Saturn? No surprise here: Saturday.
Saturn imaged by the Cassini Orbiter
1. A hexagon has six sides of equal length, and six equal internal angles, each 120 degrees. I checked the stop sign outside- it is an octagon, and although I do not have a dollar bill to double check the hexagon in the Seal, I was able to look at pictures of money on the internet.
References on the hexagon:
References on Saturn:
Reference on geometry:
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