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Successful Flight Through Enceladus Plume

Successful Flight Through Enceladus Plume

Nov. 03, 2009


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Enceladus
In this unprocessed image, sunlight brightens a crescent curve along the edge of Enceladus and highlights the moon's misty plume.
Cassini has started sending data back from its Nov. 2 flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

The Cassini spacecraft has weathered the Monday, Nov. 2, flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus in good health and has been sending images and data of the encounter back to Earth. Cassini had approached Enceladus more closely before, but this passage took the spacecraft on its deepest plunge yet through the heart of the plume shooting out from the south polar region. Scientists are eagerly sifting through the results.

At its closest point on Nov. 2, Cassini flew about 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the surface of Enceladus.

Since the discovery of the plume in 2005, scientists have been captivated by the enigmatic jets. Previous flybys detected water vapor, sodium and organic molecules, but scientists need to know more about the plume's composition and density to characterize the source, possibly a liquid ocean under the moon's icy surface. It would also help them determine whether Enceladus has the conditions necessary for life.

Mission managers did extensive studies to make sure the spacecraft could fly safely through the plumes and not use an excessive amount of propellant.

To see one scientist’s preview of the flyby, view Taking the Plunge. For complete flyby coverage, visit the Nov. 2 Flyby page.

Enceladus
This raw image appears to show separate jets spewing from the moon.