Planetary Round Up

Saturn’s hexagon – have you heard of it? It is quite easy to see from the above images – and isn’t it amazing? A near perfect, natural hexagon of immense proportions.

The sides of the hexagon are estimated to be nearly 14,000km in length – to put that into perspective, the diameter of the earth is a mere 12,700km!

It does remind me of a quote from the film Prometheus (“God doesn’t build in straight lines”) but let’s not go down that route shall we? (The problem with this quote is there are plenty of examples of straight lines in nature, for example crystals).

What I am curious about is what causes it (at the chemical level) and why it changes color!

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Images courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/jpl/pia21049/changing-colors-in-saturns-north

I have done quite a bit of research on the composition of it – there does not seem to be much information out there either L

What we do know is the atmosphere of Saturn is approximately 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, with small trace substances like ice and methane.

We also know that the pole will be colder than the rest of the planet so are we observing a partition between two phases (states) of matter? I wonder if we are maybe looking at a partition between liquid methane and gaseous methane.

The average temperature of Saturn is -178 oC and methane boils at -162 oC – could this explain the phenomena?

Don’t ask me about the straight lines though – I’d leave this to my physics or math colleagues to answer but I would imagine it is to do with spinning and fluid dynamics (enough said!)

Planet #2 is Mars – it has recently been in the news due to the apparent crash landing of the European Space Agency lander Schiaparelli but this is not what I’m writing about.

National Geographic have this month put together a documentary on colonizing Mars and the (obvious) challenges of this (http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/mars/)

What struck me about this documentary was the fact that it is thought there are glaciers of ice, just under the surface of the planet that could be exploited. Water also has a potential role to play in an unusual location – it could be used in the walls of the spacecraft used to take humans to the plane. Not so that they can easily get a drink but so that it could be used to help absorb harmful UV rays that the astronauts would be exposed to when travelling from Earth to Mars.

What are your thoughts on the mysterious hexagon of Saturn?

And how does the idea of exploiting natural resources on another planet lie with you?

I’d love to hear your comments below!

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