Cassini Buzzes Cracked and Cratered Enceladus
On Saturday, Oct. 1, the Cassini spacecraft performed another flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Passing by at a distance of only 62 miles (99 km) Cassini took some fantastic images of the 318-mile-wide moon — most notably of its signature plumes of water ice spraying from fissures along its south pole!
Enceladus’ ice plumes in action are best seen from its night side.
The purpose of the flyby was to learn more about the nature of the plumes and measure their level of activity. Cassini used not only its cameras but also its ion and neutral-mass spectrometer to effectively “taste” the plumes.
First spotted by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005, the plumes are composed of water ice vapor with various salts and organic compounds mixed in, strongly indicating the presence of a subsurface ocean or reservoir of some sort. This puts Enceladus on the short list of places in the solar system where life may possibly be found.
Craters, cracks and wrinkles…some of the many types of terrain found on Enceladus.
Cassini was traveling approximately 17,000 mph (7.4 km/s) when it flew by Enceladus. Its next pass of the moon will be on Oct. 19, when the spacecraft will fly by at an altitude of approximately 765 miles (1231 kilometers).
Helene, another of Saturn’s many moons, peeks out from behind a crescent Enceladus seen here above the rings.
See more images from this flyby on the Cassini imaging team’s site here.
Image credits: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute. Edited by Jason Major.