Saturn is probably the most beautiful planet we have in our solar system. But did you know, Saturn is also home to a very peculiar phenomenon which has never been seen anywhere else before – a hexagonal hurricane.
A hurricane in the shape of a hexagon (six-sided), not circle. If that doesn’t blow your mind, try this – the storm is an incredibly huge – 30,000 km across! And it is about 100 km deep, with winds of ammonia and hydrogen moving at more than 320 km per hour. It is large enough to swallow four planets of the size of Earth. This is what the Earth would look like if it were kept beside the storm.
It’s only natural for hurricanes to be circular. And yet, researchers at Ana Aguiar of Lisbon University have been able to show that the hexagonal storm raging in the north pole of Saturn is also very natural too. In the year 2010, they proved to by reproducing a similar effect in the laboratory by using rotating liquids.
According to them, a very narrow jet stream that goes about the hurricane’s edge creates a couple of other tiny hurricanes. These little storms are the ones that push the larger hurricane’s borders and give it a hexagonal shape.
In the 80s, the storm was first spotted by the twin voyager spacecraft.
Right here on earth there are really tall mountains. Mount Everest is the highest peak and then there’s Mauna Kea in Hawaii which is supposed to be the tallest. Yes, even taller than the Mt. Everest. To add to it, there’s one highest unclimbed mountain – Gangkhar Puensum – in Bhutan.
If we zoom out a little and put the whole solar system in our radar, things change. Mt Everest or even Mauna Kea are no where near the tallest mountains we have in our solar system. For instance, Olympus Mons, a shield volcano has, for a long time, been considered the highest peak in our solar system.
This is how it compares with mount Everest, for example. The peak of Mount Everest measures 8,848 meters. It’s absolutely huge. And yet, Olympus Mons on Mars is about 2.5 times higher! It measures about 22 kilometres in height. This image clearly shows how it compares with our tallest and highest mountains…
And yet again, even Olympus Mons, which has had the title of the tallest mountain in our solar system for several years, is believed to be no longer the tallest one.
A recently discovered peak in a proto-planet called Vesta is probably now the tallest mountain in our solar system. However, since this one – Mount Rheasilvia – is estimated to be only a few 100 meters taller than Olympus Mons, it has not very clearly dethroned Olympus Mons. Still, the data is pretty solid and can be trusted.
Rheasilvia was a peak known to researchers since 1997. But it was in 2011, when the Dawn spacecraft passed it, the data became really clear.
A couple of months back I wrote about a miniature sealed self-sustaining ecosystem that an old man has been running successfully for more than 53 years now. The whole ecosystem surviving out of itself in a completely closed system for such a long time is really fascinating. It’s like a little planet.
What if I tell you, there’s a much larger version of this completely sealed biosphere in Arizona. Much larger than the bottle, but way too smaller than our planet, and yet it works like a little planet inside a planet.
They call it the Biosphere 2 (Biosphere 1 is the plane earth’s biosphere). It is a completely closed 3-acre facility, currently owned by the University of Arizona, which doesn’t allow any matter to go in or out. There’s just energy moving in and out of this little planet that is the size of 3 football fields. Exactly like a miniature version of our pale blue dot.
Think about it this way. If you had to make a pizza in a place like that, it could take you two months or more, assuming you had everything needed to make a pizza (goats/cows for the cheese etc…). Just thinking about it makes you appreciate the fact that we’ve come so far. So far, that we’re able to get a pizza right on our door step in under 30 minutes.
The Biosphere 2 was designed to get a deeper understanding on how the earth’s biosphere actually works. Also, its aim was to try and create a prototype space base for Mars – Something like a little planet earth where we could live in and could carry it with us on a trip to other planets.
In the Biosphere 2 are areas that are meant for humans to live. Besides that there is a miniature rainforest, a savannah, a desert, a marsh, and a little mini-ocean in there!
Jane Poynter, with her team, walked into this biosphere when she was 29 years old. She lived in there for about 2 years and then came out. The world felt like a completely different place to her. It is really interesting to hear her talk in this TEDx talk…