Cassini to image Enceladus's warm vents

By Phil Plait | August 11, 2008 9:45 am

I just got an email blast from Carolyn Porco: on Monday, Cassini will fly very close to the south pole of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, and will return the best images so far in the mission of that region. Cassini discovered that Enceladus has plumes of water spurting up from deep inside the moon, indicating the presence of liquid water! This obviously makes Enceladus a very juicy (haha) target for Cassini, and the images should be spectacular. Since I’m in the Galapagos now there’s no hope of being able to grab the images, but stay tuned to sites like the Cassini CICLOPS page, Universe Today and Emily’s blog; I’m sure they’ll have the images in all their high-res glory.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Space

Comments (26)

  1. Robert Krendik

    Yeah, I read this on NASA the other day. YAHOO! Water is awesome!

  2. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    It’s a Monday after vacation (well, for some) and we all want to vent warmly.

    That said I’m all hot and bothered about the discovered possibility of liquid water in close connection to organics. (A bit bummed out that it dominantly looks primordial instead of pro-biologically or biologically processed though.) If water is awesome, liquid water and organics are wonderful.

  3. madge

    Cassini is one of my all time favourite missions. As far as the the prospects for finding signs of life in the oceans of distant moons I think it’s a toss up between Enceladus and Europa. I am REALLY looking forward to this flyby. :)

  4. Andy Beaton

    Well it’s only fair that we find a new source of water, now that martian water has turned out to be full of rocket fuel. It’s like the Perrier/benzene scandal, only on a planetary scale.

  5. To make the flyby extra cool, they’re going to be turning the spacecraft (spinning it, basically) during closest approach to try to catch the images without smearing them. It’s a bit risky in that it may not work (for one thing, the pointing could well be off), but it’s a pretty cool trick to try. :-D

  6. I welcome whatever overlords these vents spew up.

  7. Conspiracynutcracker

    WHOA, they’re taking Cassini within 50 km of the surface, that’s close. Satellites on Earth normally fly around 600 km of the surface. Some scientific balloons fly within 50 km of Earth’s surface. Then again, Enceladus doesn’t have an atmosphere…

  8. And there went closest-approach, folks! Here’s hoping it went well.

  9. Blizno

    Does Cassini have any capability to capture particles? I assume it’s basically a camera platform.
    If it could capture some of the ejecta that it might pass through and analyse it, that would be a great opportunity to see just what’s being blasted out of that moon.

  10. Oh, yes, it definitely can detect particles. About half the instruments are in situ detectors, in fact (dust detector, ion and neutral mass spectrometer, magnetometer, plasma wave detector, etc.). This pass, however, is not optimized for those instruments. They had the pass in March and will have another in October.

  11. Bigfoot

    Also cribbed from Emily’s website — this awesome photo-set animation of Enceladus-sibling Prometheus apparently mucking it up with the Saturn’s F Ring, leaving the ring (temporarily) slightly worse for wear. Amazing! http://planetary.s3.amazonaws.com/misc/20080809_cassini_prometheus_mov4a.mov

  12. Bigfoot

    Whoops! I should say I cribbed the LINK from Emily’s website. If you prefer to navigate to it from her blog, it is mentioned directly below the “Approaching Enceladus” photo.

  13. Bigfoot

    One last note on the Prometheus video — it’s a 5MB video, so high-speed connections are recommended (aren’t they always).

    We can;t all go to the Galopagos, but at least we can soar with Cassini!

  14. If anyone here is going to be in or near New York before next March, check out the Museum of Natural History’s Cassini exhibit. It’s just a small-ish hallway with huge and gorgeous pictures of Saturn & co. from the mission so far. I was floored!

  15. Robert Carnegie

    Am I the only one who thinks that “Cassini to image Enceladus’s warm vents” sounds like exobiological porn? You see, I’m British and puerile. Torbjörn Larsson is “all hot and bothered” but not the same way at all… probably. :-)

  16. Jim

    Darn you Robert, you beat me to the joke! ;)
    I was going to say “Cassini to image Enceladus’s warm vents” I thought this was a family blog.

  17. moopet

    That post title turns me on.

  18. Robert Carnegie

    But, reading another post, I see that a lot of commenters have trouble reading the word “hadron”. Ri-ight.

    Well – “All the world is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer.”

    Why would you think this is a family blog?? ;-)

  19. madge

    Wait till October when they flyby again only this time only 24km from the surface! :0

  20. Gary Ansorge

    What did one bacteria say to another?

    I really love those warm vents,,,

    GAry 7

  21. Nathan Myers

    Anyone care to speculate on how those vents manage to maintain their perfect parabolic nozzle shape, so they can blast collimated beams of matter hundreds of miles into space? Or how they keep the beams from spreading after they leave the nozzles? The subject is carefully avoided in everything official I’ve read about them.

    Me, I’m skeptical of perfectly parabolic nozzles formed and maintained in ice. We know of another mechanism to heat and loft material from a planetary surface that doesn’t demand a subterranean ammonia ocean or magical nozzles, but it involves mathematics that astronomers, as a rule, dislike intensely.

    The degree of credulity needed to accept the perfect-nozzles alternative is breathtaking. Never let an astronomer pretend skepticism.

  22. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Robert:

    Torbjörn Larsson is “all hot and bothered” but not the same way at all… probably.

    No, I’m male. … so of course I jumped on the opportunity to take a crack at BA’s (intentional or unintentional) pun.

  23. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    The first couple of skeet shot images are in, and they are a beaut! I do hope the thermal sensors got as lucky/qualified pointing.

    Anyone care to speculate on how those vents manage to maintain their perfect parabolic nozzle shape, so they can blast collimated beams of matter hundreds of miles into space?

    I haven’t seen any evidence that the emissions consists of collimated flows.

    But in that is the case I assume that the emissions are so rarefied into the preexisting vacuum (well, almost, considering the ambient E ring) that they inhabit the molecular flow regime of high vacuum. With in principle infinite free mean paths there isn’t much angular divergence after passing a fairly short crack “collimator”.

    But I’m curious about your proposed alternative, as I can’t imagine any geophysical process that would differ substantially in geometry from a crack. (I assume that larger open liquid areas would mostly ice over and narrow down naturally.)

  24. Don Snow

    @Bigfoot –
    Thanks for confirming my suspicion of needing a high speed connection; I’m on a landline connection.

    What I wonder, is are there any multi-organ life forms in all that water? It seems to me, something like jelly fish could be there.
    That question’s for this moon and Europa.

  25. Why do you need a parabolic nozzle? The jets aren’t that well collimated, especially considering that I don’t believe that there are a lot of collisions in the jets.

    But hey, if you prefer to assume we don’t know mathematics and that we haven’t modeled this jets*, I suppose nothing I can say will dissuade you from that.

    * It’s been (and is being) done by several competing teams, in fact.

  26. Risky? MRO routinely do it.

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