Cassini Dives into Enceladus Geysers

Since 2004, the Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn, giving us unprecedented views of the rings and Moons, and sending back data that has helped us to understand the dynamic nature of the Saturnian system.  The flexibility of such a craft allows for new science goals to be determined in an ongoing basis, since new discoveries often lead to new questions and new areas to focus our resources on.  Yesterday, October 28th, Cassini focused its resources on the geysers of Enceladus, flying lower than ever before over the surface of the icy moon, in an attempt to sample some of the material spewing forth from deep within, where the subsurface ocean lies.

This artist’s rendering showing a cutaway view into the interior of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft discovered the moon has a global ocean and likely hydrothermal activity. A plume of ice particles, water vapor and organic molecules sprays from fractures in the moon’s south polar region. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This fly-by is not intended to detect life, though it will give us a solid idea as to whether the subsurface ocean of Enceladus is conducive to life as we know it.  The biggest benefit to the deep dive is that the heavier elements, organic molecules, and the like, will be easier to detect since they were not as likely to be blasted up high where Cassini first sampled the plumes in the past.

Studying the plumes will also give insights into how they behave, how long they have been spraying material for, and how geologically active Enceladus is today.

Science is happening all around you right now. Keep your eyes and your mind open.

 

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