Saturn going for the gold in NASA photos

Story highlights

  • It takes about seven Earth years for Saturn to change seasons
  • Right now, summer is near for the gaseous planet best known for rings

(CNN)Planets, like people, go through phases. We try new things.

And right now, astronomers are watching Saturn, our gassy neighbor in the sky, give one of its poles a seasonal makeover.
Its hexagon cloud-like barrier, that once posed for NASA pictures as blue, is appearing in Cassini spacecraft photos a shade of sunshine gold.
    And, of course, these types of changes intrigue academics for reasons complex and esoteric.
    "Scientists are investigating potential causes for the change in color of the region inside the north-polar hexagon on Saturn," NASA reported.
    "The color change is thought to be an effect of Saturn's seasons," the US space agency said.
    This change is complicated.
    But here's what's up, literally:

    What happened?

    Saturn has four seasons. They last about seven Earth years.
    The planet has photochemical haze, or particles in its atmosphere.
    Between November 1995 and August 2009, Saturn underwent a "winter polar darkness," according to Hampton University Assistant Professor Kunio Sayanagi.
    Saturn a few years back, when there was a lot less action going on.
    What does this do?
    Well, the northern cloud-like barrier, which scientists call a six-sided jet stream, is affected.
    During the winter, particles are not produced. There's no sunshine.
    They can't reach the hexagonic jet stream. And the jet stream itself blocks them.
    It goes blue.
    "The hexagon jet acts as a barrier and when when there is nothing produced inside, the atmosphere clears up and the inside looks blue," Sayanagi explained.