Snow Covered Slopes of Enceladus

In a new study of Saturn’s icy moon, researchers found that snow falls on Enceladus, but at an extremely slow and steady pace by Earth standards less than a thousandth of a millimeter per year. To build up roughly 320 feet or 100 meters of the stuff would require a few tens of millions of years or so. NASA’s Cassini probe, in orbit around Saturn, made global maps of Enceladus and measured its surface layer thicknesses. The spacecraft found that ice particles ejected by geysers on the moon fall back onto Enceladus’ surface in a predictable pattern.By mapping these deposits, researchers discovered that active icy plumes likely last tens of millions of years or more on the surface of Enceladus, and blanket the frigid body in a thick layer of tiny ice particles.

According to scientists the discovery by instruments aboard the Cassini orbiter that there’s a currently active plume of icy dust and vapor from Enceladus has revolutionized planetary science. They could uncover two lines of evidence that point to thick deposits of plume material coating the surface of Enceladus itself. Researchers hope to expand upon this work once new high-resolution images are obtained during Cassini’s future encounters with Enceladus, which are planned for 2012 and 2015 during the spacecraft’s extended mission.