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Space United Kingdom Science

Saturn's Strange Hexagon Recreated In the Lab 103

Posted by timothy
from the reproducing-the-big-wet-spot dept.
cremeglace writes "Saturn boasts one of the solar system's most geometrical features: a giant hexagon encircling its north pole. Though not as famous as Jupiter's Great Red Spot, Saturn's Hexagon is equally mysterious. Now researchers have recreated this formation in the lab using little more than water and a spinning table—an important first step, experts say, in finally deciphering this cosmic mystery. More details, including a cool demo video, at ScienceNOW."
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Saturn's Strange Hexagon Recreated In the Lab

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    When will they solve the mystery of the inflamed ring around Uranus?

  • Geometrical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:20PM (#31781334)

    A hexagon? The summary is right, that is the most geometrical feature I've ever seen in the solar system. At least twice as geometrical as all those spheroids and ellipses.

    • don't forget those pesky 6 sided snowflakes that keep falling

    • The summary is right, that is the most geometrical feature I've ever seen in the solar system. At least twice as geometrical as all those spheroids and ellipses.

      Sadly, it's a direct quote of the first line of TFA:

      Saturn boasts one of the solar system's most geometrical features: a giant hexagon encircling its north pole.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        And does a hexagon really "enCIRCLE" something or does it "enhexagon" the north pole?

    • Re:Geometrical (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:46PM (#31781642) Homepage
      Spheroids, ellipses and circles arise fairly naturally from well-understood laws. Even if the laws were a bit different we'd still see them a fair bit. For example, if gravity was inverse linear planets would still organize into spheres. Orbits wouldn't be ellipses but they aren't really ellipses anyways, just ellipses to a first approximation (gravity from other planets distorts the orbits a measurable amount. This was actually used to predict the existence of Neptune based on the failure for Uranus to in as nice an ellipse). But hexagons are very rare in nature. In that sense they are a nice geometric object that we generally associate either with humans or with evolved self-organizing processes (such as bees which use hexagons because they are an efficient tiling pattern). But hexagons out of simple processes like this is just weird. In that sense this is more akin to geometrical objects like squares and octagons that you just don't see in nature. The point being made by using that term should have been clear.
      • Re:Geometrical (Score:5, Informative)

        by AP31R0N (723649) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @04:01PM (#31781820)

        Bubbles will tessalate into hexagons with the right pressure. i guess it's more stable (closer to circles/spheres) than other shapes.

        • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
          As I understand it this is the same thing that's happening with why bees use hexagons, minimizing surface area. Surface area minimization is the main reason that hexagons generally show up in nature, but the contexts they do are pretty rare. I'm only aware of the bubble thing, TFA's and the hexagonal crystals. They're probably are others but the point is they aren't common at all and when they do occur they occur for interesting reasons.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jonadab (583620)
          Hexagonal crystals are also not unusual, for similar reasons.

          What would be weird would be a naturally occurring repeating pattern of different shapes, e.g., a soccerball-like repeating mixture of pentagons and hexagons, or a pattern of octagons that each adjoin another octagon on the north, south, east, and west edges, with squares (angled at 45 degrees) filling the gaps between the ne, sw, se, and nw edges, and bonus points if adjoining octagons are different colors while the ones across squares from eacho
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            Buckyballs
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fullerene [wikipedia.org]
            • by jonadab (583620)
              Fullerines are manmade. It's normal for manmade things to have complex structures and patterns. It would only be surprising it it arose naturally without human intervention.
              • You know, I thought that at first too, and maybe you know more than I, but the article I linked says they occur naturally.

                Minute quantities of the fullerenes, in the form of C60, C70, C76, and C84 molecules, are produced in nature, hidden in soot and formed by lightning discharges in the atmosphere.[6] Recently, fullerenes were found in a family of minerals known as Shungites in Karelia, Russia.

                I looked up a few sources, and they agree. Here is one that looks legit: http://www.springerlink.com/content/w3856554l87733w3/fulltext.pdf?page=1 [springerlink.com]

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by gardyloo (512791)

                Fullerenes are ridiculously common in soot. Besides, you don't think "manmade" means going in and arranging atoms one-by-one in arrangements that aren't stable, do you? If the atoms are in a stable arrangement, it's because it minimizes the free energy of the system, and I guarantee that nature has figured out a way to get there first.

          • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

            You describe that and I immediately think of a similar scenario where life in animals and our bodies exists naturally apart from it happening with a Prime Mover orchestrating the evolution. It makes my jaw drop to consider that happening without a Prime Mover, but for that the internet metaphorically stones me.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by adisakp (705706)

        But hexagons are very rare in nature.

        Yeah, HoneyComb, SnowFlakes, Hexagonnaly symmetric Invertebrates (i.e. 6 Legged SeaStars), and Six-Sided Crystals (Rubies, sapphires, emeralds, etc) are all very rare in nature.

        • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @06:22PM (#31783566)

          They are as rare as proper capitalization.

          • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Probably as rare as grammar trolls on slashdot.
        • by jo_ham (604554)

          Yes, you just made the point that he went on to mention in the same post you quoted, including the same example of a honeycomb.

          • by adisakp (705706)
            Well, he did use honeycomb but basically said that hexagons came out of behavior (animal created structures where animals == bees or people) so you're right, I shouldn't have used the honeycomb example.

            However, the other examples show that structures that were not created by deliberate animal behavior and refute his point.
        • But hexagons are very rare in nature.

          Yeah, HoneyComb, SnowFlakes, Hexagonnaly symmetric Invertebrates (i.e. 6 Legged SeaStars), and Six-Sided Crystals (Rubies, sapphires, emeralds, etc) are all very rare in nature.

          only because the basic building blocks of atoms dictate that they arrange in that structure.
          When they're not rigidly connected (like in an atmosphere) then we're talking about something completely different.

        • by pclminion (145572)

          Yeah, HoneyComb, SnowFlakes, Hexagonnaly symmetric Invertebrates (i.e. 6 Legged SeaStars), and Six-Sided Crystals (Rubies, sapphires, emeralds, etc) are all very rare in nature.

          Yes, they are. At any random moment, survey your surroundings -- how many naturally occurring hexagons do you see?

          Just because we can list examples of natural hexagonal objects, and even though these objects sometimes exist in localized areas in large numbers, doesn't change the fact that they are extremely rare. Most things at a m

        • by ^_^x (178540)

          I think the line that summed it up from the linked story was "Most planetary scientists are not aware of how ubiquitous these sorts of patterns are in fluid dynamics."

          This is in no way my field, and I certainly have no chops to do a proper proof of it, but as soon as it said hexagon, I thought "oh, so it's probably a deposit of ice then?"

      • Hexagons are rare in nature....
        Not at a molecular level....

        I wonder if fluid dynamics ( as it may or may not be applicable to a quantum electron cloud ) may be another way to look at the way molecules take their shapes?

        Rather than think of valence bonds and such, but rather see it as a "blob" of energy that is doing something similar as these experiments show on a small level? The fact that the sides are geometric, is another form of discreet math, as shows up in string theory as well..

        I am old and my brain

      • Seen a Map of France lately?

  • Mystery? (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by qoncept (599709)
    What is this, 1629? What's mysterious about Jupiter's Great Red Spot?
  • Duh! (Score:4, Funny)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:26PM (#31781428)
    That's where you stick the socket in. Stupid scientists.
  • by butalearner (1235200) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:27PM (#31781440)

    SIMULTANEOUS 6-DAY

    TIME HEXAGON

    IN ONLY 10.57 HOUR ROTATION

  • by weston (16146) <westonsd AT canncentral DOT org> on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:33PM (#31781516) Homepage

    "A giant hexagon encircling its north pole?"

    Well, that sounds familiar:

    "The team discovers a surface anomaly near the north pole of the planet, where a hexagonal hole appears for a brief interval every day. " [wikipedia.org]

    I for one welcome... er, wonder where our Markovian Overlords went.

    • by Tteddo (543485)
      It's sad that there are less people like us on this thread than the last one. That was the first thing I thought of. Loved those books.
  • Pffftt (Score:2, Funny)

    by MrTripps (1306469)
    Wake me up when the find a giant black rectangular prism. ( http://movieimage2.tripod.com/2001/2001-04.jpg [tripod.com] )
  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:50PM (#31781694)

    It's one of the valid places to move your Mech.

    • by Samah (729132)

      It's one of the valid places to move your Mech.

      Sorry, I think you have "Mech" confused with "Zig".

  • by Sir Holo (531007) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @03:56PM (#31781748)
    Similar oscillations have been observed in Mercury [mac.com].

    Click on Activity 3 [mac.com].
    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      LOL, I had completely the wrong idea when I read your post. I was like "What bizarre hexagonal oscillations could have been seen on the planet Mercury?!"

  • It's obvious to me that someone screwed up the tiling on that texture.
  • "Hexagon is nature’s way of using the least length of line to enclose the most area."

    View tortoise shells and Devils Postpile National Monument.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In this case, it's more like "Hexagon is stupid people's way of referring to any symmetric 6-lobed shape."
      View a standing wave with periodicity of 6.

      If it was a true hexagon, with perfect line segments, your explanation might be the obvious one (except that it's bogus), but nobody would be asking about the hexagon. They'd be asking what about Saturn's atmosphere makes features form in straight lines contrary to everything we know about fluid mechanics.

      For the details of why you're wrong, consider a Dragonba

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Hmmm....

      A regular hexagon of circumference C has an area A =~ 2.6(C/6)^2. A/C =~ 0.072*C

      A circle of circumference C has an area A = pi ( C / 2pi)^2. A/C =~ 0.79*C

      So, circles still win as far as "most area enclosed for least length of line".

      I think tortoise shells are better explained by the fact that hexagons tile well. Tiling isn't really the issue with saturn; there's just the one.

    • "Hexagon is nature's way of using the least length of line to enclose the most area."

      Right, when circles aren't available.

  • by FudRucker (866063) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @04:49PM (#31782310)
    i made hexagon shapes in the bird bath in my back yard with the garden hose while spraying water in it in such a way that gets water spinning in a circular direction (to clean out debris and freshen the water)
  • Yeah so polygons are formed in hydraulic rotating systems when you introduce a vertical jet of a different viscosity. Welcome to 1999!

    Jesus this is getting ridiculous! When can Scandinavian scientists start to believe that UK/US researchers even scan their works before publishing? Its like Anders Celsius never existed!

    http://iopscience.iop.org/0951-7715/12/1/001;jsessionid=B8281BB419A9613CD40649F803F5C666.c2 [iop.org]

    Full disclosure: I am not Danish
    • It's neither a recent phenomenon, nor confined to the hard sciences. For example, Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations years after Anders Chydenius was writing about similar things.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Jesus this is getting ridiculous! When can Scandinavian scientists start to believe that UK/US researchers even scan their works before publishing?

      As soon as it stops being a source of paper-publishing gold!

  • It is an interesting fact, no two multi-earth-sized snowflakes are identical.

  • If you put sand on a plate and subject it to sound waves, you can make shapes at certain harmonics. This look familiar? http://www.world-mysteries.com/sci_cym3.gif [world-mysteries.com] I wouldn't be surprised at all if these were related phenomena.
  • It looks like a radial Von Karman Vortex Street, typically seen for low Reynolds numbers for flow over a cylinder. To me it like a Lorentz transformation similar to electrical current going in circles creating a magnet, and vice versa.

  • by pizza_milkshake (580452) on Thursday April 08, 2010 @11:36PM (#31785868)
    I thought making symmetrical holes in water is easy http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060515/full/news060515-17.html [nature.com]

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