The Big Picture: Enceladus

By Phil Plait | October 24, 2008 4:00 pm

Oooo, The Big Picture has taken on Enceladus. Awesome.

Enceladus from Cassini

Enceladus is a small moon of Saturn, and Cassini has been sending back totally incredible images of it. The one above I hadn’t seen before, and it’s spectacular! Those little nodules of ice are actually a couple of hundred meters across. Go look at the rest of them. Seriously, wow.

Comments (38)

  1. Wow! I kept finding new favorites as I scanned down the page. Beautiful!

  2. The Big Picture really puts things in perspective. Absolutely marvelous!!!

  3. DrFlimmer

    Those pics are absolutly incredible! Everyone should take a look, you won’t regret it!

  4. kuhnigget
  5. Dan Glastonbury

    Stunning photos. Thanks for sharing.

  6. That surface looks awfully dark for a moon that’s supposed to have a near-100% albedo.

  7. peteG

    WOW. I love the flyby animation, and as for the first picture…I want a huge poster of that on my wall.
    The moon looks so pristine and delicate, and as for the enormous out of focus surface of Saturn in the background…Beyond words.

    The comments on The Big picture about tax dollars made me smile too.

  8. That surface looks awfully dark for a moon that’s supposed to have a near-100% albedo.

    Compared to what? When you’ve got nothing to compare a surface to, it’s hard to say if it’s bright or not, given the vagaries of exposure time and computer editing. Consider the Moon: it looks amazingly bright in the night sky, but it reflects about only 10% of the light that hits it. It’s all a matter of context.

    As for the Boston Globe, I wonder why they turned so many of the pictures upside-down? (And why their image credits are inconsistent, he says, standing up for his co-workers’ hard work.)

  9. kuhnigget

    @ John Weiss:

    “As for the Boston Globe, I wonder why they turned so many of the pictures upside-down?”

    Oh dear, you must have logged on to the Australian version by mistake….

  10. Breathtaking!

    BTW, whenever you mention Enceladus, I get a craving for Mexican food… Enchiladas, anyone?

  11. Ummm, please don’t mention Uranus…

  12. Naomi
  13. Crudely Wrott

    Hoooo! Worlds within whorls at spittin’ distance! This is what robotic sensing is all about!

    In a world where the horizon is within a good Aerobee throw, can you see over the edge? (In the voice of the voice over guy who starts by saying, “In a world where . . .”)

    And the resolution and discrimination will only get better. Wicked cool. Anx.

  14. mocular

    Looks like a big snowball….floatin out there all alone….MMMMmmmmm…ice cream.

  15. Astro_logic

    “Look at it out there orbiting like it’s so cool…”
    Sorry, random ATHF moment.

    These pictures are amazing, simply amazing.

  16. Wow… seriously wow… as others have said…

    and, is here an up or down in space?

  17. Oh, the other thing I wanted to say is that these images engender the same kind of reaction and feeling I had when seeing the first Voyager images of Enceladus lo these many years ago at JPL… what a wonderful thing to see!

  18. SLC

    A commentary by Bob Park on this flyby with his usual snark about manned space flight.

    4. MEANWHILE: CASSINI THUMBS ITS NOSE AT ASTRONAUTS.
    Launched eleven years and two days ago on a mission to explore the planets and rings of Saturn, this amazing spacecraft dipped to within 25 kilometers of the surface to the moon Encelades, less than the distance of a marathon, and analysed the spray from the geyser-like plume of ice and water vapor near the south pole.

  19. One day with a bit of luck one day someone is going to look out of a window and say, “You know I’ve seen all the pictures but until you’ve seen it with your own eyes… Wow. Just. Wow”. Mandarin or Hindi translation not withstanding.

    Having said that these pictures are just… gosh darnit they’re good.

  20. Eddie Janssen

    Nah, studiowork. Hoax, I say, hoax

  21. Eddie Janssen

    Or a fine example of Poe: The real thing is so good it looks like a fake

  22. So breathtaking… Saturn and it’s moons are so incredibly photogenic. It’s amazing to me how the Cassini engineers could compute a trajectory that would take Cassini so close to each of Saturn’s moons — with a finite supply of propellant on board, and a many year life of the probe. I would love to see a book or write-up about how the initial Cassini orbit was chosen, how far apart each of the moons are, whether or not they are on the same plane, etc — written so in lay-person terms.

  23. Gary Ansorge

    “I’m still waiting for the day when I can surf the rings of Saturn,,,”

    (Comment by the Silver Surfer,,,)

    Gary 7

  24. Fruit Fly

    Does anyone else see the phone box to the left of the black triangle at the top?

    Doctor Who maybe?

    Calling Richard Hoagland?
    Where are you when we need you?

  25. Crudely Wrott

    I think, Fruit Fly, that what we are seeing is an automatic multidimensional transit station. They work quite simply. If you go in, you immediately come out elsewhere. Why they won’t post legible maps is quite beyond me. Last time I entered one here on Earth I had to find seventeen more to get home. Missed supper, too. And caught a nasty chill. And there is a suspicious lump just below my left collar bone that tingles sometimes. I shoulda just stayed home.

  26. Ian

    I think I can see Bruce Willis!

  27. Melusine

    I love the moving image…32,211 mph…no traffic jams. Good stuff.

  28. Mad Hussein LOLscientist, FCD

    Cassini KICKS MAJOR ASS!!!1!!!!!11one1!!!!!!eleven1!!

    OK, NASA screws up sometimes, and that’s what seems to get all the publicity. The good stuff like this, the stuff that makes it worth all the aggravation, usually gets buried back in section D of the newspaper or right before signoff on the Friday late evening news.

    Props to boston.com – and to the head-guy-what’s-in-charge of The Big Picture, who has a set of over 200 Cassini photos on filckr.

  29. Mad Hussein LOLscientist, FCD

    Oops, of course I meant “flickr.” we can has preview button? pls? kthxbai.

  30. Aleksandar

    Sadly, in the comments on the site, there are several “we cant fix any of our problems on Earth and we waste money on useless space exploration”.
    Some good people tried to defend cause by saying how small part of Federal budget NASA was and so on…

    Response by somene:
    QUOTE:

    Nasa:
    1. Provides jobs for nerds that would instead be addicted to WOW.
    2. Gives us pictures. Thats right: PICTURES! I have yet to benefit from a picture, I’d rather have lower taxes, even if its $1.00 less (that’s a coke!)
    3. It’s a relic of the cold-war space race. What do we need to prove anymore?
    4. It’s funded on the hope that we’ll be living a Star Trek life one day! Sorry, but the laws of physics will keep you from ever leaving our little green planet.
    5. Maybe we could colonize mars? Nope, NASA won’t even colonize the moon! They’d rather let dude’s muscles waste away in the ISS.
    6. But we have velcro! What did we ever do without VELCRO?

    Sure… we waste a lot of taxpayer money on a lot of stuff: wars, election campaigns, and supporting large numbers of “Welfare” drug habits. But that doesn’t mean we should be looking to waste more money on a defunct space program.

    /END QUOTE

    I have no ideas what to say to such a person.

  31. IVAN3MAN

    @ Aleksandar

    Try telling them that if it wasn’t for mankind’s burning curiosity about what’s over the horizon, he would have never stepped down from the tree to walk upright towards that horizon; space is the final frontier.

    Furthermore, if we don’t, another country will, as China and India have shown recently.

    If that doesn’t convince them, then tell them to go and visit a taxidermist on their own behalf!

  32. Nigel Depledge

    MadHussein LOLscientist FCD said:

    OK, NASA screws up sometimes, and that’s what seems to get all the publicity. The good stuff like this, the stuff that makes it worth all the aggravation, usually gets buried back in section D of the newspaper or right before signoff on the Friday late evening news.

    Don’t forget, of course, that Cassini is a joint venture of NASA, ESA and API. It must be that Italian engineering know-how that makes all the difference ;-)

  33. Nigel Depledge

    Aleksanar said:

    QUOTE:

    Nasa:
    1. Provides jobs for nerds that would instead be addicted to WOW.
    2. Gives us pictures. Thats right: PICTURES! I have yet to benefit from a picture, I’d rather have lower taxes, even if its $1.00 less (that’s a coke!)
    3. It’s a relic of the cold-war space race. What do we need to prove anymore?
    4. It’s funded on the hope that we’ll be living a Star Trek life one day! Sorry, but the laws of physics will keep you from ever leaving our little green planet.
    5. Maybe we could colonize mars? Nope, NASA won’t even colonize the moon! They’d rather let dude’s muscles waste away in the ISS.
    6. But we have velcro! What did we ever do without VELCRO?

    Sure… we waste a lot of taxpayer money on a lot of stuff: wars, election campaigns, and supporting large numbers of “Welfare” drug habits. But that doesn’t mean we should be looking to waste more money on a defunct space program.

    /END QUOTE

    I have no ideas what to say to such a person.

    I’ll have a go at providing some constructive responses here…

    1) A) By providing jobs for “nerds” (or, more correctly, engineers and scientists), the Apollo programme gave the USA some of the best engineers in the world. When they left NASA, many of them contributed that education to other projects.
    1) B) Also employ many more manufacturing folks than engineers or scientists – after all, who builds all the stuff that the engineers design?

    2) A) If you feel you do not benefit from pictures, you are looking at the question in the wrong light. The “pictures” (actually, renderings from scientific data collected by something far more sophisticated than a mere camera) provide information that has never before been known. Not only does this fuel scientific discovery about the universe of which we are a part, it also fulfils other aspects of being human – such as the curiosity to explore and to discover, and the wonder and satisfaction of understanding what we observe.
    2) B) Beautiful images of our solar system and the universe at large benefit hundreds of millions of people. Or do you begrudge anyone the pleasure of viewing something beautiful? (Potentially add in references to the Louvre or the Uffizi Gallery that house some of the world’s finest works of art.)

    3) Has not been true for over 20 years. NASA is about exploration and discovery. Apollo was funded out of flag-waving fervour, but NASA nevertheless managed to get good science out of it.

    4) Please cite where this information comes from – because it sounds like someone making stuff up on the spot.

    5) NASA has never been given funding to colonise the moon. Likewise Mars. And, you know what? The new NASA director recently pointed out what role the ISS will need to play in understanding the gruelling journey to Mars. While the ISS (NB not exclusively funded by NASA) has not fulfilled its potential, it has a vital role to play in preparing for any deep-space manned mission.

    6) We had velcro before NASA. What you fail to notice is that we have dozens of satellites surrounding the Earth doing science all the time so we can better understand our planet. So we have better weather forecasts; we have continuous information about climate change; we have continuous information about the stratospheric ozone layer; we have infomartion about deforestation in Indonesia or Amazonia that can inform studies of biodiversity and habitat loss. We also have satellites around the sun, observing, collecting data, enabling us to learn more about it, and hence, inter alia, we can get advance warning coronal mass ejections that might head in our direction and black out power grids and destroy communications and TV satellites. Everyone on the planet benefits directly from this information in one way or another.

  34. Aleksandar quoted somebody as saying:

    [quote]Nasa:
    1. Provides jobs for nerds that would instead be addicted to WOW.[/quote]

    I would respond to this, except my level 70 fury warrior needs to finish his Hallow’s End Achievements before zombies overrun Orgrimmar again.

  35. DingoDave

    Sorry if this is a double post.

    According to the U.S. Constitution, one of the Vice-President’s duties is to serve as Chairman of the Board of NASA.

    Can you imagine Sarah Palin as Chairman of the Board of NASA? : O

    She’d better start brushing up on her rocket science. : )

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