NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during its fly-by Saturn has sent the best-ever images of the northern extremes of Saturn’s icy, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus, which were taken on Oct. 14. The fly-by covered 1,142 miles (1,839 kilometers) above the moon’s surface. The fly-by encounter will lasto next several days and more images will be sent, said NASA.
Earlier, scientists believed that the north polar region of Enceladus was heavily cratered, based on low-resolution images from the Voyager mission, but now the new high-resolution Cassini images show a landscape just in contrast.
“The northern regions are crisscrossed by a spidery network of gossamer-thin cracks that slice through the craters,” said Paul Helfenstein of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. “These thin cracks are ubiquitous on Enceladus, and now we see that they extend across the northern terrains as well.”
In addition to the processed images, some unprocessed images have also been posted on the Cassini mission website.
Cassini is expected to have its next encounter with Enceladus on Oct. 28 reaching within 30 miles (49 kilometers) of the moon’s south polar region and make make its deepest-ever dive through the moon’s plume of icy spray, sampling the chemistry of the extraterrestrial ocean beneath the ice. The icy moon has become famous for the organics-laden geysers firing from long fissures along its southern pole.
Ground Mission at NASA hopes that the flyby data will provide evidence of how much hydrothermal activity on the moon’s ocean, its chemistry revealing more information on the potential habitability of Enceladus.
Cassini’s final encounter with Enceladus flyby will take place on Dec. 19, when the spacecraft will measure the amount of heat coming from the moon’s interior at an altitude of 3,106 miles (4,999 kilometers).
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint project of NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is managing the mission. The Cassini has two onboard cameras designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.