NASA's Cassini spacecraft has made a spectacular flyby of the mysterious moon.
Amazing images have been released from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft of icy geysers exploding on the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
It’s one of the closest flybys Cassini has ever made by the moon, and the data it is collecting could help scientists better understand Enceladus and whether it is possible there is life there, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
The deep dive took Cassini through a plume of water particles briefly — moving at 19,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft didn’t linger very long. But it was close enough to capture stunning images, like the one above, as well as critical data. Its instruments, which are designed to analyze gas and dust, could provide critical insight for researchers hoping to understand whether Enceladus has a habitable environment.
Cassini has made a closer flyby to Enceladus surface before, but this is the deepest dive through this plume of geysers it has ever done. While scientists already knew about methane in the geysers, they wanted to fly through the plume to sample it more extensively and look for organic molecules that might be precursors to life.
The goal of the flyby was first to confirm that there was molecular hydrogen in the plume — signs of hydrothermal activity under the surface. This heat would be critical to microbes that might survive on the moon.
Also, the scientists want to know if these plumes of gas are constantly spewing out material or periodically creating jets of activity. This could tell them how long Enceladus has been active.
Enceladus is quite small for a moon, and it is dwarfed in comparison to Europa, a Jupiter moon, which has its own ocean. Enceladus is just 300 miles across.
The findings could tell scientists just how likely life is. If they could provide it happened twice within just one solar system, it could have big implications for how likely intelligent life would be somewhere in the universe.