Cassini's final orbits in 2016 and 2017 provided unprecedented spatial resolution of Saturn's polar regions from near-polar spacecraft viewing geometries. Long-wavelength channels of Cassini's Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph instrument detected Saturn's UV-dark north polar hexagon near 180 nm at planetocentric latitudes near 75°N. The dark polar hexagon is surrounded by a larger, less UV-dark collar poleward of planetocentric latitude 65°N associated with the dark north polar region seen in ground-based images. The hexagon is closely surrounded by the main arc of Saturn's UV aurora. The UV-dark material was locally darkest on one occasion (23 January 2017) at the boundary of the hexagon; in most Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph images the dark material more uniformly fills the hexagon. The observed UV-dark stratospheric material may be a hydrocarbon haze produced by auroral ion-neutral chemistry at submicrobar pressure levels. Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph polar observations are sensitive to UV-absorbing haze particles at pressures lower than about 10–20 mbar.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science