Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cassini Finds An Atmosphere On Saturn's Moon Enceladus

Date:
March 22, 2005
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
The Cassini spacecraft's two close flybys of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus have revealed that the moon has a significant atmosphere. Scientists, using Cassini's magnetometer instrument for their studies, say the source may be volcanism, geysers, or gases escaping from the surface or the interior.

This false-color, close-up look at Saturn's moon Enceladus yields new insight into the different processes that have shaped the moon's icy surface.
Credit: Image courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The Cassini spacecraft's two close flybys of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus have revealed that the moon has a significant atmosphere. Scientists, using Cassini's magnetometer instrument for their studies, say the source may be volcanism, geysers, or gases escaping from the surface or the interior.

When Cassini had its first encounter with Enceladus on Feb. 17 at an altitude of 1,167 kilometers (725 miles), the magnetometer instrument saw a striking signature in the magnetic field. On March 9, Cassini approached to within 500 kilometers (310 miles) of Enceladus' surface and obtained additional evidence.

The observations showed a bending of the magnetic field, with the magnetospheric plasma being slowed and deflected by the moon. In addition, magnetic field oscillations were observed. These are caused when electrically charged (or ionized) molecules interact with the magnetic field by spiraling around the field line. This interaction creates characteristic oscillations in the magnetic field at frequencies that can be used to identify the molecule. The observations from the Enceladus flybys are believed to be due to ionized water vapor.

"These new results from Cassini may be the first evidence of gases originating either from the surface or possibly from the interior of Enceladus," said Dr. Michele Dougherty, principal investigator for the Cassini magnetometer and professor at Imperial College in London. In 1981, NASA's Voyager spacecraft flew by Enceladus at a distance of 90,000 kilometers (56,000 miles) without detecting an atmosphere. It's possible detection was beyond Voyager's capabilities, or something may have changed since that flyby.

This is the first time since Cassini arrived in orbit around Saturn last summer that an atmosphere has been detected around a moon of Saturn, other than its largest moon, Titan. Enceladus is a relatively small moon. The amount of gravity it exerts is not enough to hold an atmosphere very long. Therefore, at Enceladus, a strong continuous source is required to maintain the atmosphere.

The need for such a strong source leads scientists to consider eruptions, such as volcanoes and geysers. If such eruptions are present, Enceladus would join two other such active moons, Io at Jupiter and Triton at Neptune. "Enceladus could be Saturn's more benign counterpart to Jupiter's dramatic Io," said Dr. Fritz Neubauer, co-investigator for the Cassini magnetometer, and a professor at the University of Cologne in Germany.

Since the Voyager flyby, scientists have suspected that this moon is geologically active and is the source of Saturn's icy E ring. Enceladus is the most reflective object in the solar system, reflecting about 90 percent of the sunlight that hits it. If Enceladus does have ice volcanoes, the high reflectivity of the moon's surface might result from continuous deposition of icy particles originating from the volcanoes.

Enceladus' diameter is about 500 kilometers (310 miles), which would fit in the state of Arizona. Yet despite its small size, Enceladus exhibits one of the most interesting surfaces of all the icy satellites.

For images and information on the Cassini mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Cassini Finds An Atmosphere On Saturn's Moon Enceladus." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 March 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050322133345.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2005, March 22). Cassini Finds An Atmosphere On Saturn's Moon Enceladus. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 15, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050322133345.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Cassini Finds An Atmosphere On Saturn's Moon Enceladus." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050322133345.htm (accessed April 15, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

AP (Apr. 15, 2014) Star gazers in parts of North and South America got a rare treat early Tuesday morning - a total eclipse of the moon. (April 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Approves Mon. Space Station Supply Launch

NASA Approves Mon. Space Station Supply Launch

AP (Apr. 13, 2014) NASA decided Sunday to stick with the planned launch of the SpaceX cargo ship, despite a critical computer outage at the space station.Liftoff is scheduled for 4:58 p.m. Monday from Cape Canaveral. (April 13) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Blood Moon' Attracts Stargazers, Conspiracy Theories

'Blood Moon' Attracts Stargazers, Conspiracy Theories

Newsy (Apr. 13, 2014) Tuesday's total lunar eclipse will bring out both stargazers and conspiracy theorists alike as the blood red moon fills up the early morning sky. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
ISS Glitch Could Delay SpaceX Launch, Warrant Spacewalk

ISS Glitch Could Delay SpaceX Launch, Warrant Spacewalk

Newsy (Apr. 12, 2014) NASA is weighing its options after a backup computer malfunctioned on Friday. Astronauts may have to replace the device during a spacewalk. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins