Courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science InstituteThe Cassini spacecraft made a recent approach to Saturn's moon Enceladus a couple days ago and captured some remarkable images of the icy plumes of water and organic compounds spraying into space from the moon's south pole. Kind of like a trip to Yellowstone without the crowds. The spacecraft also passed by two other moons, Janus and Dione.
Some unusual features of Enceladus are the tiger stripes that scour the moon's surface near its southern polar region. These markings appear to be the result of tectonic forces at work beneath the moon's ice-water shell. The geysers were first observed back in 2005. During Cassini's recent flybys the spacecraft took a taste of the jet sprays, analyzing their composition with special instrumentation.
"Aside from water and organic material, there is salt in the icy particles. The salinity is the same as that of Earth's oceans.“ - Dr Carolyn Porco, head of Cassini imaging team.
The orbit of Enceladus is distorted by Saturn's strong gravitation. This exerts tremendous pull on the moon creating heat and the subsequent generation of geologic activity that expresses itself on the surface with the tiger stripes and the geysers that emanate from them. The amount of water vapor leads scientists to think that an ocean exists just beneath Enceladus's icy surface.
Enceladus is Saturn's sixth largest moon and was discovered in 1789 by English astronomer William Herschel
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The Cassini Huygens mission to Saturn just passed its ten year mark. It blasted off from Earth on Oct 15, 1997. I hooked up my computer to the internet a month later, and have been enjoying photos from it ever since. Last year for Paul McCartney's 64th birthday, sixty-four images from Cassini were put together into a poster and a movie.
Cassini flew by Jupiter on the way to Saturn . Cassini approached Saturn in mid-2004. One of my favorite photos is titled, The Dragon Storm. You can click through all of the Cassini photos by starting on this Cassini Imaging Diary page.
The term "Huygens" refers to a probe attached to the Cassini craft. On Christmas Day, 2004 it separated itself and landed on Saturn's moon, Titan (click here to access videos and photos).
If you haven't been following this exciting mission, you have ten years of catching up available.
The Cassini spacecraft currently in orbit around Saturn is sending back incredible images of the ringed planet and its moons. Its next flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan is tomorrow, at around 3:30 am Central Time. The flyby tomorrow will be used to determine if Titan has a subsurface ocean.
Like most other NASA missions, there is a lot of material to whet your appetite for space information. There are video updates from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), image galleries, and even an opportunity to vote on your favoriate image from the Cassini mission.
The Cassini spacecraft is a joint project between NASA/JPL, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Cassini was launched on October 15, 1997 and has been in orbit around Saturn since July 2004.
Saturn's moon Titan is the only satellite (moon) in our solar system that has a dense atmosphere. Nitrogen is the main component of this atmosphere and methane the second most important. The Cassini spacecraft photographed Titan as it passed by on October 26, 2004. Later analyses of the images revealed a cryovolcano that spews ice instead of lava. This finding is reported by Christopher Sotin and associates at Universite de Nantes and the Universite de Paris-Sud in France and other institutions in Germany, Italy, and the USA (Arizona, California, Colorado, New York, Washington). This giant ice volcano may also release methane into the atmosphere; however, the images show that a widespread methane ocean does not exist. Because Titan's atmosphere is similar to that of Earth, scientists are studying Titan for clues to the origin of life.