Subscribe

Spectacular photos of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus captured by Cassini

Photos from NASA's Cassini spacecraft show the north pole of Enceladus.

  • close
    The north pole of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus is seen in an image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft taken October 14, 2015. The moon's north pole lies approximately at the top of this view from Cassini's wide-angle camera. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 4,000 miles (6,000 kilometers) from Enceladus.
    Space Science Institute/JPL-Caltech/NASA/Reuters
    View Caption
  • close
    NASA's Cassini spacecraft photographed this cratered terrain near the north pole of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus during a close flyby on Oct. 14, 2015. Thin fractures slice through the craters — part of a network of similar cracks that wrap around the satellite.
    Space Science Institute/JPL-Caltech/NASA
    View Caption
  • close
    This image, captured on Oct. 14, 2015 by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, shows heavily cratered terrain around the north pole of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus.
    Space Science Institute/JPL-Caltech/NASA
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured its best-ever looks at the north polar region of Saturn's ocean-harboring moon, Enceladus.

Cassini zoomed within 1,142 miles (1,838 kilometers) of Enceladus Wednesday (Oct. 14), performing its 20th close flyby of the icy satellite since arriving in the Saturn system in 2004. The spacecraft has already beamed home some of the new close-encounter images, and more will come down to Earth in the next few days, NASA officials said.

Many of Cassini's previous Enceladus flybys occurred when the moon's far northern reaches were cloaked in winter darkness. But northern summer has arrived in the Saturn system, and the recent flyby brought the mysterious region out into the light. [Photos of Enceladus, Saturn's Icy Moon]

"The northern regions are crisscrossed by a spidery network of gossamer-thin cracks that slice through the craters," Cassini imaging team member Paul Helfenstein, of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said in a statement. "These thin cracks are ubiquitous on Enceladus, and now we see that they extend across the northern terrains as well."

Cassini spotted powerful water-ice geysers near Enceladus' south pole in 2005. These jets are blasting into space material from the ocean of liquid water that sloshes beneath Enceladus' ice shell, scientists say.

Mission scientists will scan the new flyby images for signs of activity coming from the north polar region as well, NASA officials said.

Wednesday's flyby serves as a prelude to another upcoming close encounter: On Oct. 28, Cassini will cruise within just 30 miles (49 km) of Enceladus' south polar region, NASA officials said.

"During the encounter, Cassini will make its deepest-ever dive through the moon's plume of icy spray, sampling the chemistry of the extraterrestrial ocean beneath the ice," agency officials wrote in the same statement.

"Mission scientists are hopeful data from that flyby will provide evidence of how much hydrothermal activity is occurring in the moon's ocean, along with more detailed insights about the ocean's chemistry —both of which relate to the potential habitability of Enceladus," they added.

Cassini will fly by Enceladus again on Dec. 19, approaching within 3,106 miles (4,999 km) of the satellite and gathering data that should help scientists gauge how much heat is coming from the satellite's interior. (That heat is generated by friction, which itself is primarily the result of Saturn's powerful gravitational pull, researchers say.)

Those two future flybys will be Cassini's last close encounters with the 314-mile-wide (505 km) Enceladus. Cassini will end its $3.2 billion mission — which is a collaboration involving NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency — with an intentional death dive into Saturn's thick atmosphere in September 2017.

You can see more Enceladus images from Wednesday's flyby here: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/flybys/enceladus20151014/

Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

Copyright 2015 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK