Enceladus sprays anew!

By Phil Plait | December 1, 2010 4:22 pm

This picture of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus just came down from the spacecraft yesterday, and is very cool:


[Click to engeysernate.]

First, this is a raw image, which means there has been no processing on it. It’s uncalibrated and uncleaned, straight from the spacecraft. So some of the bright specks in it are not real, but probably things like cosmic ray hits on the detector.

But what a picture! Enceladus has a string of water geysers erupting from its south pole region, and usually they are seen individually. But this view shows them all blending together, as if a sheet of ice is spraying out of the tiny moon!

Even cooler, look just above the limb of the moon to the left: I can’t be totally positive, but I think that grayish crescent is the shadow of the moon falling across the spray! The angle looks right; from the thin brightly lit crescent on the right (the part of the moon we can see that’s in direct sunlight), you can tell the spacecraft is looking nearly straight down on the dark side of the moon (the faintly lit right half of the moon is probably due to reflected light from Saturn itself). The Sun is lighting up the plumes, and the shadow of the moon’s edge would fall pretty much where we’re seeing it.

If so, well, wow! Very pretty. Well, it’s pretty anyway, but a big part of my brain goes ping! when I understand what I’m seeing in these pictures. That’s not as often as I’d like — Saturn is really, really weird — but still, the fact that we can take pictures in situ from a billion kilometers or more away is also enough to make all kinds of regions of my brain light up.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute. Tip o’ the Old Faithful to, as usual, Carolyn Porco.

Related posts:

Enceladus on full afterburner
Midnight on a ringed world
Crescent planet, crescent moonrise
Enceladus is erupting!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Cassini, Enceladus, Saturn

Comments (26)

  1. Left_Wing_Fox

    I’m sure this has been asked before, but are these true-color images or monochome? If I were standing where Cassini is in reality, would I only see shades of grey there?

  2. This a black&white picture, taken through a “clear” filter to get most of the light in. The raw images as they appear on the website are extremely compressed and with not a lot of grey levels, but some moderate post-processing (as I tried here some hours ago) is still possible.

  3. Joseph G

    Wow!! That’s truly amazing, particularly for a relatively raw image. I’ve seen raw images that look almost incomprehensible until certain skilled individuals work some digital magic on ’em, but this one is spectacular right off the bat :)

  4. Mike

    Anyone else get the feeling like standing on the edge of an Abyss when looking at photos from our distant orbiting satellites?

  5. BJN

    Beautiful image. Is there a correlation between the limb illumination and the location of the geysers, or do we just get the most dramatic images with that lighting?

  6. Messier Tidy Upper

    Marvellous image. :-)

    Superluminous (beyond brilliant!) work by the Cassini crew.

    Thankyou. :-)

  7. Was attempting to submit for your weblog the other day and was getting issues. Glad you got items sorted out nowadays. Marketing by way of ppv came just in time, because the PPC area was getting overly aggressive. Utilizing well believed out methods and special landing pages, let’s hope it remains inexpensive to marketers for some time to come. Excellent weblog with some solid information, it is obtaining so significantly easier to locate ppv information to the net nowadays (Gotta like the big G :)

  8. @ #8:

    “And several butcher’s aprons.”

  9. Rebecca Harbison


    The particles in Enceladus’s plume are very small. This means they are easiest to see when the spacecraft is nearly looking at the Sun (so as crescents), unlike big particles which would be most brightest fully lit. Basically they tend to scatter light mostly at small angles, a lot like chalkdust in a projector beam. So plume pictures are all taken when Enceladus is at a crescent. Plus, I’d imagine the surface-feature folks would like to use full-Enceladus or quarter-Enceladus time to examine the surface when it’s not only lit by Saturnshine.

    (Saturn is why I’d guess the ‘dark’ side of the moon is lit on the left.)

  10. Daniel J. Andrews

    hmm, no-one’s done, “That’s no moon” yet.

  11. Menyambal

    It is amazing to see, Phil. Thanks for posting.

  12. A point that has been missed about the plumes in this amazing image is the fact that they are multi-layered. That is – Enceladus’ own shadow cross-cuts some of the plumes (in the background) but not a few major ones in the foreground.

    It should be possible to correlate and name these plumes with their geographical position on Enceladus.

    A truly amazing and data-rich image. Nice post, Phil!

  13. Sigmund

    Phil, are there any plans in NASA to try to capture some of the escaping water, in order to do some proper biochemical analysis?

  14. Trebuchet

    @#8: How about saying something about the actual post to show you’re not just a spammer?

  15. Douglas Troy

    Great picture Phil. Just another reminder that we are part of an active and ever changing solar system.

  16. Folks,

    Cassini has been almost routinely `capturing some of the escaping water’ and we’ve been analyzing the results for years now! That’s how we know there are organic compounds and some ammonia and argon and other stuff spraying out of the vents, along with the tiny particles you see here. Also, Phil is right: we see the shadow of the moon cutting off the bottoms of those jets beyond the terminator, but not the bottoms of those which are in front of the terminator (ie, on the dayside) as seen in this image. Amazing, isn’t it, that we saw this image only several hours after it was taken. We live in interesting times! And very glad you enjoy our images!!

  17. shabazz uzeez

    Nice work ,if you can get it.

    There are two different light sources.

    All this is in Rev. 14.

  18. Tribeca Mike

    Cant get enough of those Cassini photos, but are those stars in the background or specks on my monitor?

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Tribeca Mike :

    Cant get enough of those Cassini photos, but are those stars in the background or specks on my monitor?

    I see them too – even when I brushed my screen. Not sure if they are stars or particles or camera artefacts from Cassini itself but those specks are certainly present on that image.

    @19. shabazz uzeez :

    All this is in Rev. 14.

    Huh?? Say wha ..? Okay then, let’s see :


    Revelation 14 : 14:1
    Then I looked, and there was the lamb, standing on Mount Zion. And with him were 144,000 who had his name and his father’s name written on their foreheads. [14.4] These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. And they follow the lamb wherever he goes. [Revelation 14:6, 9] And I saw an angel in the middle of the sky, saying with a loud voice, ‘Anyone who worships the beast and his image, and takes the mark on his forehead or his hand, will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the lamb.’


    [Rev. 14:14] Then I looked and saw a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. … [Rev. 14:20] They stomped on the wine press outside the city. [Revelation 14:20] And blood poured out of the press. [Rev. 14:20]
    It rose as high as a horse’s bridle for a distance of 184 miles.

    There’s more but I’ve shortened it .. and nothing there even remotely, in the slightest possible way concievable that’s connected with Enceladus or even Saturn as far as I can see! :roll:

    Which isn’t surprising.

    Enceladus was discovered in 1789 August 28th by William Herschel.

    Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enceladus_(moon)

    The Bible was written many centuries earlier before Enceladus was known. If there really was a reference to Enceladus and other planetary moons – or Neptune, Ouranos, Pluto, Ceres and so many other bodies unknown. If there was say a chapter breifly saying something like :

    “there are X number of worlds as yet unknown to you that can yet be seen in the sky with particular inventions. One is blue and vaster than all the lands known to you combined 17 times. Another cna be glimpsed like thefaintets star and is green and slower moving inthe sky than Saturn. Yea, verily, there are many thousand smaller wandering stars of rock and ice far beyond your current sight but circling round your Sun!” Etc ..

    Now *that* would really be something!

    But that’s NOT in there – and the Bible is NOT a science textbook or ever intended as such. So, dude, please don’t post nonsense unless you can back it up with an unambiguous biblical line that clearly says “Enceladus is a moon of Saturn with multifold geysers upon it” or suchlike.

    Because folks can & will call you on that.

  20. Sigmund

    Carolyn, I realize that Cassini has been analyzing the particles at a distance – looking at the wavelengths of light absorbed to guess at the chemical composition etc – but I wondered if there were plans to physically capture some of the particles to carry out in situ analysis. The sorts of results obtained could be fascinating from the point of view of astrobiology (or at least astrochemistry). One probably wouldn’t even need to bring the particles back to earth – a small lab could be present on the spacecraft that would do the analysis and send the results back to earth.

  21. Jane A Green

    Carolyn, I’m not sure if you will pick this up but you very kindly wrote the Epilogue for my book, the ASTRONOMY MANUAL, published by Haynes Publishing. It came out in October this year. I recently appeared on BBC Radio Four’s ‘Midweek’ programme with Libby Purves – our national radio station in the United Kingdom with over two million listeners. As a result, the book became the No 1 bestselling astronomy book in the UK! Your double-page spread looks beautiful and your words sum up beautifully how I feel about astronomy and cosmology. Sir Patrick Moore and Dr Brian May also endorsed it wonderfully with a terrific Introduction and Foreword. Please check it out at the official Haynes Publishing website where they are giving it a terrific profile! So … thank you! And are you ever visiting the UK? Hope so! Best wishes, Jane A Green


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar