Cassini mission releases stunning new photo of Enceladus

Plumes spewing from moon's south pole are clearly visible.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Dec 30, 2017
NASA's Cassini mission released a new photo of Saturn's moon Enceladus silhouetted against the giant planet's rings on Wednesday, December 27.

The image features a thin crescent of Enceladus lit by sunlight with visible plumes of water ice spewing from its south pole.

Cassini's narrow-angle camera captured the image from a distance of 90,000 miles (145,000 km) on November 6, 2011. The image looks toward the side of Enceladus that faces Saturn.

A distant star is visible as a bright dot to Enceladus' right.

While the Cassini mission ended on September 15, when the spacecraft was plunged into Saturn's atmosphere, mission scientists continue to release photos of the Saturn system captured during the probe's visit between 2004 and 2017.

A description released along with the image notes, "Saturn's moon Enceladus drifts before the rings, which glow brightly in the sunlight. The brightly-lit limb of a crescent Enceladus looks ethereal against the blackness of space. The rest of the moon, lit by light reflected from Saturn, presents a ghostly appearance."

Enceladus is Saturn's sixth largest moon, with a diameter of 313 miles (504 km). A global ocean of liquid water that could potentially host microbial life is located beneath its icy shell.

Plumes coming from its south pole indicate hydrothermal activity, as water vapor and ice from the underground ocean spew through vents beneath the icy crust and emerge via fractures in the ice.

Cassini's instruments detected organic compounds within the plumes, including volatile gases, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, salts, and silica.

The probe also found Enceladus to have hydrogen gas, an ingredient necessary for life.

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, also hosts a subsurface ocean and could also be potentially habitable for microbial life.

 

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