Conditions near Earth’s poles can be pretty harsh, but the storms over Saturn’s polar regions blow them away.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft photographed storm-twisted Saturnian clouds, spun into tufts that resemble loose wool or strands of cotton candy, as the orbiter passed above the giant planet’s northern polar region. The spacecraft acquired the raw, unprocessed image on November 27 from a distance of about 365,000 kilometers—roughly equivalent to the separation between Earth and the moon. Previous surveys by Cassini have found that winds whip through the atmosphere over Saturn’s north pole at more than 500 kilometers per hour—30 percent faster than any gust ever recorded in a cyclone on Earth.

The spiraling vortex pictured here sits within an even more dramatic feature—a giant hexagonal cloud structure, some 25,000 kilometers across, that has persisted for decades over the north pole. The curious polar hexagon was discovered in the 1980s during flybys of Saturn by the twin Voyager spacecraft.

—John Matson