Saturn is usually only known for its beautiful rings, but NASA's Cassini spacecraft discovered many things about the gas giant and its moon during its 13-year orbit around the planet. Before the Cassini died a fiery death in September 2017, the mission uncovered many of Saturn's mysteries, but some of its findings were also unusual.
Check out some findings about Saturn from the Cassini mission.
One of the most unusual things we learned about Saturn from the Cassini is the gaseous planet's hexagon, which looks almost artificial and is unlike anything on Earth. Saturn's hexagon, as seen in this image, is actually a set of jet streams around the planet's north pole takes on the shape of a hexagon. Saturn's hexagon measures around 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) across and extends to about 60 miles (almost 100 kilometers) into the gas giant's atmosphere.
Scientists have long since tried to figure out how such a neat geometric shape could have been formed. The jet stream explanation was proposed by Raúl Morales-Juberías at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and his team in 2015. After running computer simulations of the planet's atmosphere, they found the culprit behind the hexagon. A jet stream moving around Saturn's pole at more than 200 mph (320 km/h) will eventually form a hexagonal shape.
"With a very simple model, we have been able to match many of the observed properties of the hexagon," Morales-Juberías told Space.com.
Saturn's moon Titan has water like Earth
Saturn's moon Titan is perhaps the most famous among the gas giants many satellites. The moon had become known for its hydrocarbon snow and methane lakes, but the Cassini also found that it has an ocean just like Earth. Unlike the ones in our planet, however, Titan's subsurface ocean is extremely salty and has water comparable to that found in the Dead Sea.
"This is an extremely salty ocean by Earth standards," study lead author Giuseppe Mitri of the University of Nantes in France said in a statement. "Knowing this may change the way we view this ocean as a possible abode for present-day life, but conditions might have been very different there in the past."
Another thing Saturn has in common with Earth is the presence of lightning and lightning storms. Back in 2009, the Cassini spacecraft captured a video of lightning on the planet. This was the first time the phenomenon had ever been recorded on another planet.
Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging science subsystem team member at the California Institute of Technology, revealed that Saturnian storms that make the lightning are as powerful as Earth's, according to a statement from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. However, lightning storms happen less often on Saturn than it does on our planet.
Saturn's lightning storms also last much longer than the ones on Earth, going on for months instead of just hours. The lightning on Saturn was first spotted at night, but two years later, Cassini captured images of lightning on the planet's dayside.
Titan's methane rain
Back in 2006, the Huygens probe aboard the Cassini found evidence that Saturn's moon Titan had methane rain. A photo of Titan's poles showed the weather at the surface. It was also discovered that methane drizzles on the moon every day and temperatures could drop to minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 184 degrees Celsius).
Back in 2014, Cassini may have caught the birth of a Saturn moon. The gas giant already has over 60 moons, from giants like the Titan, which is bigger than Mercury, to tiny moonlets only 1,300 feet wide. But the Cassini may have captured images of a new one that would join the bunch.
The images released by NASA showed the edge of Saturn's A ring, one of the bright and wide outer regions. In the photos, there was an arc about 20 percent brighter than its surroundings. It was estimated to be 750 miles (about 1,200 kilometers) long and 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide.
According to NASA, they also found what appeared to irregularities in the form of small bulges caused by the gravitational pull of something nearby on the edge of the ring. The arc and protuberances on the ring may actually be a small moon forming from bits of icy material, according to a study published in the journal Icarus in 2014. This is the same process the larger moons underwent during their own formation.
However, Peggy, as the scientists named the object, isn't expected to grow any bigger than its current size, which is less than a mile across. It could also eventually fall apart.
This story first appeared in IBTimes US.