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Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

NASA's Cassini Images Reveal Spectacular Evidence of an Active Moon

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via PRNewswire

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- Jets of fine, icy particles streaming from Saturn's moon Enceladus were captured in recent images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The images provide unambiguous visual evidence the moon is geologically active.

"For planetary explorers like us, there is little that can compare to the sighting of activity on another solar system body," said Dr. Carolyn Porco , Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo."This has been a heart-stopper, and surely one of our most thrilling results."

The Cassini images clearly show multiple jets emanating from the moon's south polar region. Based on earlier data, scientists strongly suspected these jets arise from warm fractures in the region. The fractures, informally dubbed "tiger stripes," are viewed essentially broadside in the new images.

The fainter, extended plume stretches at least 300 miles above the surface of Enceladus, which is only 300 miles wide. Cassini flew through the plume in July, when it passed a few hundred kilometers above the moon. During that flyby, Cassini's instruments measured the plume's constituent water vapor and icy particles.

Imaging team members analyzed images of Enceladus taken earlier this year at similar viewing angles. It was a rigorous effort to demonstrate earlier apparitions of the plumes, seen as far back as January, were in fact real and not due to imperfections in the camera.

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