Saturn Has Unexpected Hot Spot

Unmanned space probe gets rare look at planet's dark top pole
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 3, 2008 6:08 PM CST
This image provided by NASA on May 31, 2007 was taken as the Cassini spacecraft flew over the unlit side of Saturn, capturing Saturn's glow. Saturn's shimmering rings may be as old as the solar system,...   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – Saturn’s frigid north pole has been revealed to have a hot column of compressed air, a surprising discovery by the unmanned Cassini spacecraft, Reuters reports. Scientists already knew that the gas giant’s sun-drenched south pole had such a hot spot, but infrared photographs taken by Cassini revealed a narrow region of hot gas swirling around the dark north pole.

"We think it is due to air descending from higher in the atmosphere to lower in the atmosphere," said one scientist, explaining his theory on the genesis of the gas column: "The mass of air heats up as it's compressed—like air in a bicycle pump." The findings might help scientists better understand Earth's other gas-planet neighbors, like Jupiter.