Why Saturn’s hexagonal pole is now changing color

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A new model suggests that Saturn’s mysterious polar formation is responding to the slowly changing seasons of the planet’s 29-year orbit.

The mystery of Saturn’s hexagonal storm may finally be solved, thanks to scientists with NASA’s Cassini mission.

Since its arrival in 2004, Cassini has gathered data on the strange cloud formation at Saturn’s north pole several times, and captured a new twist last month: the usually bluish formation appears to be changing color. A side-by-side comparison of the recent photo and one taken in November 2012 shows that the formation has lightened considerably and now looks more golden.

The hexagon was first spotted during the Voyager flybys of 1980 and 1981, but since those images were taken at a distance, the storm’s existence was not confirmed until the Cassini mission. The cloud formation is unique in the known solar system, and has defied scientists’ efforts to fully explain it.

In September of last year, more than three decades after the polar formation’s discovery, a group of scientists developed a computer simulation that they say explains the phenomenon better than previous attempts.

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