NASA has released a stunning new photo of Enceladus, as the Cassini spacecraft peered up at the icy moon from just below the plane of Saturn’s rings. Wow.
The image was taken in visible light by Cassini on July 29, 2015, from a distance of 630,000 miles (or one million kilometres). The spacecraft was just 0.3 degrees below the ring plane, and it shows the un-illuminated side of Saturn’s majestic rings.
Enceladus is turning out to be one of the most interesting objects in the Solar System. NASA explains:
Although Enceladus and Saturn’s rings are largely made up of water ice, they show very different characteristics. The small ring particles are too tiny to retain internal heat and have no way to get warm, so they are frozen and geologically dead. Enceladus, on the other hand, is subject to forces that heat its interior to this very day. This results in its famous south polar water jets, which are just visible above the moon’s dark, southern limb, along with a sub-surface ocean.
Recent work by Cassini scientists suggests that Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across) has a global ocean of liquid water under its surface. This discovery increases scientists’ interest in Enceladus and the quest to understand the role of water in the development of life in the solar system.
That’s got people thinking that this moon, along with Jupiter’s moon Europa (which also features subterranean oceans), would make for excellent destinations for robotic probe missions. Cassini Mission
Top image by Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA