See NASA's sneak preview reel of photos from Enceladus flyby

The fully processed images Cassini's flyby took of the icy moon on Wednesday won't be available until 2016. But NASA has released a suite of raw images.

Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus was acquired by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a close flyby of the icy moon on Wednesday.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus was acquired by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a close flyby of the icy moon on Wednesday.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus was acquired by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a close flyby of the icy moon on Wednesday.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
This unprocessed view of Saturn's moon Enceladus was acquired by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a close flyby of the icy moon on Wednesday.

The south pole of Enceladus, Saturn’s icy moon with a tendency to spout water, just had a close-up, courtesy of a US-European spacecraft.

The Cassini spacecraft completed a flyby of Enceladus on Wednesday, traveling within 30 miles of the surface of the south pole. The spacecraft also plunged through a font of water erupting from the planet and collected particles for later analysis.

Most of the photos released this week are unprocessed, raw images of the encounter. (Click through the above photo reel to see progressively closer shots of the moon.) Processed and confirmed images are expected to come later in 2016. The images are stunning, but the most exciting information and discovery will come form the scientific data collected by Cassini, according to project scientist Linda Spilker.

The data collected while traveling through Enceladus's water plume will help scientists determine the components of the moon's vast under-ice ocean.

“With our much deeper dive through the plume, we’ll have a chance to sample potentially larger particles," Dr. Spilker told The Christian Science Monitor in the days leading up to the flyby. The larger particles could reveal new organics for scientists to analyze.

Finding out more information about the ocean and its characteristics will also help scientists answer whether or not the sea might be livable, moving us one step closer to possibly discovering life on another planet.

Discovering evidence of life on Enceladus might be an even bigger discovery than finding the evidence on Mars. As the Monitor reported, “Life on Enceladus would represent strong evidence that life emerged in the inner and outer solar systems independently.” Any discovery of life on Mars, on the other hand, would leave open the possibility that microbes from one planet might have colonized the other.

Last year, NASA passed on a mission proposal to send a craft capable of detecting life to Enceladus. A new proposal is being refined, according to Dr. Jonathan Lunine, a scientist at Cornell University, but could cost as much as $450 million. 

As of now, no future missions to Enceladus are scheduled. 

[Editor's note: An earlier version suggested that this was Cassini's closest approach to Enceladus. That actually happened on October 9, 2008, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.]

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.