Cassini Spots New Images of Saturn Moon Enceladus

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spots new images of Saturn’s moons Enceladus, Janus and Dione on March 27 and 28, 2012.

The new photos reveal the plume of water ice and vapor that springs from the south pole of Enceladus, which is Saturn’s sixth largest moon, as well as the pockmarked surface of Dione and the tiny oblong shape of Janus. Cassini made a close flyby of Enceladus on March 27, swooping within about 46 miles (74 kilometers) of the moon’s surface. This moon is one of the few known geologically active places outside Earth in the solar system. The flyby gave Cassini’s ion and neutral mass spectrometer an opportunity to taste the composition of the icy jets spewing from Enceladus’ south pole. The theory that an underground ocean of liquid water is powering this southern plume makes Enceladus a potential spot for the existence of extraterrestrial microbial life. After the Enceladus encounter, Cassini passed the small moon Janus with a closest approach distance of 27,000 miles (44,000 kilometers). The planet was in the background in some of these views. Then, on March 28, Cassini neared the medium-sized Dione at about the same distance of 27,000 miles (44,000 kilometers). The probe was able to capture nine separate frames that mosaic together to illustrate the moon’s heavily cratered far side that faces away from Saturn in its orbit. Cassini is set to make its next Enceladus flyby in a little over two weeks, on April 14. The probe’s mission has been extended until at least 2017.

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