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Beyond Earthly Skies

Flying Over an Enceladean Geyser

4 Oct 2013, 10:00 UTC
Flying Over an Enceladean Geyser NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
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Enceladus is a small icy moon of Saturn with a diameter of 500 km. An interesting discovery from the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn is the presence of high-velocity jets of water emanating from four prominent fissures at Enceladus’ South Pole region. Some of the water, in the form of ice grains, escape Enceladus’ gravity and populate Saturn’s tenuous E-ring. Enceladus is currently only the third known object in the Solar System after Earth and Jupiter’s moon Io that is sufficiently geologically active for its internal heat to be detected by remote sensing.Figure 1: With a diameter of only 500 km, Saturn’s moon Enceladus is small enough to fit within the length of the United Kingdom. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.On 14 April 2012, the Cassini spacecraft flew over Enceladus’ South Pole region, approaching as close as 74 km from the surface. The flyby velocity was 7.5 km/s. At this speed, the entire diameter of Enceladus was traversed in 67 s. During the flyby, Cassini’s Visual Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) recorded a thermal emission spectrum as the instrument’s field-of-view crossed over Baghdad Sulcus, one of the four major fissures. The flyby took place when much of Enceladus’ South Pole region ...

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