NASA has just shown a more detailed picture of the hexagonal vortex/storm on Saturn:


Is that theoretically understood what is the cause behind this eye-catching nontrivial, regular yet not circular, shape? If so, what is the cause? I expect some explanation in terms of "nonlinear equations" of "mathematical physics" and "solitons".

P.S. (added a day after this question and the first answer was posted): On my blog where I posted the same question, people came up with some articles and phrases like "Rossby waves" and "resonance of latitude-dependence Coriolis frequency".

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think solitons are relevant for this phenomenon $\endgroup$
    – Christoph
    Dec 5, 2013 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, can you use the same method to create pentagons and octagons? $\endgroup$
    – Jitter
    Dec 5, 2013 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ I've already answered this question here, though I won't repost it as hdhondt already has addressed the issue with the same reference. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2013 at 6:10

1 Answer 1


I doubt if anyone has come up with a complete explanation, but some laboratory simulations have created similar patterns. They happen if the central and surrounding areas in a flat, circular disk of fluid have different velocities. Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society covers it at this site. She also explains how other patterns (triangles & heptagons) form under similar circumstances.

  • $\begingroup$ The full paper by Aguiar, Read, Wordsworth, Salter and Yamazaki is here: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0019103509004382 . It looks like they did a linear stability analysis of certain solutions of the barotropic vorticity equation en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barotropic_vorticity_equation describing the flow in the atmosphere, which then motivated their experiments. $\endgroup$
    – j.c.
    Dec 5, 2013 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ The experimental pictures are interesting - the hexagon arises because it's a circle being squeezed by 6 other potatoes around it. That could make sense as an approach to qualitatively explain the Z6 symmetry and why the solution is stable. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2013 at 10:40

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