Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cassini Spacecraft To Dive Into Water Plume Of Saturn Moon

Date:
March 11, 2008
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
NASA's Cassini spacecraft will make an unprecedented "in your face" flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus on Wed., March 12. The spacecraft, orchestrating its closest approach to date, will skirt along the edges of huge Old-Faithful-like geysers erupting from giant fractures on the south pole of Enceladus. Cassini will sample scientifically valuable water-ice, dust and gas in the plume. The source of the geysers is of great interest to scientists who think liquid water, perhaps even an ocean, may exist in the area.

This is an artist concept of Cassini flying past Enceladus.
Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA's Cassini spacecraft will make an unprecedented "in your face" flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus on Wed., March 12.

The spacecraft, orchestrating its closest approach to date, will skirt along the edges of huge Old-Faithful-like geysers erupting from giant fractures on the south pole of Enceladus. Cassini will sample scientifically valuable water-ice, dust and gas in the plume.

The source of the geysers is of great interest to scientists who think liquid water, perhaps even an ocean, may exist in the area. While flying through the edge of the plumes, Cassini will be approximately 200 kilometers (120 miles) from the surface. At closest approach to Enceladus, Cassini will be only 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the moon.

"This daring flyby requires exquisite technical finesse, but it has the potential to revolutionize our knowledge of the geysers of Enceladus. The Cassini mission team is eager to see the scientific results, and so am I," said Alan Stern, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Scientists and mission personnel studying the anatomy of the plumes have found that flying at these close distances poses little threat to Cassini because, despite the high speed of Cassini, the plume particles are small. The spacecraft routinely crosses regions made up of dust-size particles in its orbit around Saturn.

Cassini's cameras will take a back seat on this flyby as the main focus turns to the spacecraft's particle analyzers that will study the composition of the plumes. The cameras will image Enceladus on the way in and out, between the observations of the particle analyzers.

Images will reveal northern regions of the moon previously not captured by Cassini. The analyzers will "sniff and taste" the plume. Information on the density, size, composition and speed of the gas and the particles will be collected.

"There are two types of particles coming from Enceladus, one pure water-ice, the other water-ice mixed with other stuff," said Sascha Kempf, deputy principal investigator for Cassini's Cosmic Dust Analyzer at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany. "We think the clean water-ice particles are being bounced off the surface and the dirty water-ice particles are coming from inside the moon. This flyby will show us whether this concept is right or wrong."

In 2005, Cassini's multiple instruments discovered that this icy outpost is gushing water vapor geysers out to a distance of three times the radius of Enceladus. The moon is only 500 kilometers (310 miles) in diameter, but despite its petite size, it's one of the most scientifically compelling bodies in our solar system. The icy water particles are roughly one ten-thousandth of an inch, or about the width of a human hair. The particles and gas escape the surface at jet speed at approximately 400 meters per second (800 miles per hour). The eruptions appear to be continuous, refreshing the surface and generating an enormous halo of fine ice dust around Enceladus, which supplies material to one of Saturn's rings, the E-ring.

Several gases, including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, perhaps a little ammonia and either carbon monoxide or nitrogen gas make up the gaseous envelope of the plume.

"We want to know if there is a difference in composition of gases coming from the plume versus the material surrounding the moon. This may help answer the question of how the plume formed," said Hunter Waite, principal investigator for Cassini's Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer at the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio.

This is the first of four Cassini flybys of Enceladus this year. In June, Cassini completes its prime mission, a four-year tour of Saturn. Cassini's next flyby of Enceladus is planned for August, well into Cassini's proposed extended mission. Cassini will perform seven Enceladus flybys in its extended mission. If this encounter proves safe, future passes may bring the spacecraft even closer than this one. How close Cassini will be allowed to approach will be determined based on data from this flyby.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.

For images, videos and a mission blog on the flyby, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini. More information on the Cassini mission is also available at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.


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 Spacecraft To Dive Into Water Plume Of Saturn Moon." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080310171102.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2008, March 11). Cassini Spacecraft To Dive Into Water Plume Of Saturn Moon. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080310171102.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Cassini Spacecraft To Dive Into Water Plume Of Saturn Moon." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080310171102.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) A comet from the farthest reaches of the solar system passed extremely close to Mars this weekend, giving astronomers a rare opportunity to study it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Latin America Launches Communications Satellite

Latin America Launches Communications Satellite

AFP (Oct. 17, 2014) Argentina launches a home-built satellite, a first for Latin America. It will ride a French-made Ariane 5 rocket into orbit, and will provide cell phone, digital TV, Internet and data services to the lower half of South America. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, October 17, 2014

This Week @ NASA, October 17, 2014

NASA (Oct. 17, 2014) Power spacewalk, MAVEN’s “First Light”, Hubble finds extremely distant galaxy and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Saturn's 'Death Star' Moon Might Have A Hidden Ocean

Saturn's 'Death Star' Moon Might Have A Hidden Ocean

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) The smallest of Saturn's main moons, Mimas, wobbles as it orbits. Research reveals it might be due to a global ocean underneath its icy surface. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

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