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Space Photos of the Week: Saturn's Mysterious Hexagon

This psychedelic, color-filtered view shows the unique hexagonal cloud structure at Saturn’s north pole. When Cassini first came near Saturn in 2004, the timing of seasons put this area in darkness; it wasn’t until much later that the spacecraft was able to observe this massive, bizarre hurricane with an eye about 50 times the size of hurricane eyes on Earth. Scientists aren’t sure what creates the hexagon shape; so far, they understand it as a deep jet stream, filled with large and small vortices (like the whitish one near the bottom of the hexagon). They also note distinct concentrations of smaller haze particles inside compared with the outside.

Jupiter’s candy-cane, red and white color scheme is eye-catching, but it turns out there is more to the story: When NASA’s Juno swung by and captured detailed photos researchers noted clumps of cyclones. The agency turned to citizen scientists to process the raw image data, and as they did, bands of blues appeared—believed to be low down in the atmosphere. This adds to the astronomical allure of our solar system’s largest member. WIRED, for one, calls Jupiter’s atmosphere “super weird.”

Jupiter is sort of the Sauron of space. The giant planet’s weather events sometimes tangle into each other while some keep to themselves—like this storm with a defined eye looking out into the universe. The resolution on this image is so crisp you can actually discern depth and shadows for billowing clouds. Scientists were excited to find these higher altitude clouds that cast shadows, because it’s how they can begin to puzzle out their composition and origin.

More Saturnalia, ’70s black-light style: Check out the ringed planet in moody ultraviolet blue, courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope. Saturn has pretty spectacular auroras (shown in bright turquoise at north pole), which scientists believe are boosted by solar wind and the rotation of the planet itself.

These are two active regions of our star seen up close by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory. When viewed through an extreme ultraviolet filter, areas of intense magnetism appear as bright white. These magnetic flare-ups are often the cause of solar storms, which create the aurora here on Earth.

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