KMSP - Scientists at NASA are investigating potential causes for the change in color on the North Pole of Saturn. You can see the changes, taken in 2 separate true color images from this year and 2012.
First though, Saturn is clearly much different than Earth. The planet rotates around the sun much further than the Earth taking nearly 30 years to make one full rotation. Therefore, Saturn’s seasons last a little over 7 years a piece. While it may sound dreadful to be in one season for 7 years, don’t worry, the planet is less than hospitable because of a tremendous amount of dangerous gases that are stuck in its atmosphere. Not to mention, the hexagonal shape (a 6 sided object) that you see in the North Pole region is Saturn’s polar jet stream, but travels much faster than ours, nearly 330 mph (Earth’s is MUCH smaller and typically travels between 60 and 120mph). Not to mention, Saturn is about 25 times the size of Earth. In fact, you could fit 2 Earth’s inside its North Pole.
Even though there are hundreds of ways our 2 planets are different, there may be one detail we share, and it’s something that everyone on our planet enjoys. NASA scientists theorize that it may actually be the change of seasons that make the North Pole change color… a lot like what happens to trees around here in the fall and spring.
Researchers think the hexagonal jet stream might act as a barrier that prevents haze particles produced outside it from entering. During the polar winter night between November 1995 and August 2009, Saturn's north polar atmosphere became clear of aerosols produced by photochemical reactions -- reactions involving sunlight and the atmosphere. Since the planet experienced equinox in August 2009, the polar atmosphere has been basking in continuous sunshine, and aerosols are being produced inside of the hexagon, around the North Pole, making the polar atmosphere appear a hazy yellow today.
Other effects, including changes in atmospheric circulation, could also be playing a role. Scientists think seasonally shifting patterns of solar heating probably influence the winds in the Polar Regions.
Just when you thought we were the only planet to be affected by our tilt!