Backyard Observatory

Yes, This Unbelievable Photo of Saturn Is Real

NASA has unveiled a gorgeous image of Saturn's hexagonal pole.

Photos of Saturn
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

There's no more recognizable planet than Saturn. But new photos from NASA's Cassini spacecraft are showcasing it in surreal, gorgeous images that give a whole new look the planet.

The photos reveal beautiful bands of clouds near the planet's northern polar vortex, swirling around Saturn's hexagonal jet stream. Every band is air flowing across the planet at different speeds and heights with swirling patterns visible where those bands interact.

The bands rotate around the dark hexagonal shape at the planet's pole, "understood to be the eye of a hurricane-like storm," according to a statement from NASA. "The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable. A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades -- and who knows -- maybe centuries," says Andrew Ingersoll of the Cassini imaging team.

Those jet streams move at about 220 miles per hour and NASA says that if you were able to look down on the pole from above the streams would have a blue and gold hue. The above was taken at a distance of 890,000 miles, while the below image of the planet's rings was taken from approximately 283,000 miles away.

photos of Saturn
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The spacecraft, a cooperative project between NASA, ESA (European Space Agency), and the Italian Space Agency, has been studying the planet, rings, and moons since 2004. Now, it's coming up on the end of its mission. Cassini will take a death dive into the planet in 2017 after making a pass between the planet and its inner band of rings. It will be the first time a spacecraft has traveled between the gas giant and its rings. So, get ready for more incredible images from Cassini in the near future.

h/t Mashable

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.