Saturn’s moon Enceladus

U.S solar system is home to some strange, intriguing moons† Perhaps one of the most intriguing moons in the solar system is Saturn moon, Enceladus. Enceladus was discovered in 1789 by the astronomer William Herschel and was named Enceladus by his son. Despite its existence being known for more than two centuries, everything about Enceladus was a mystery until Voyager flew by in the early 1980s. What astronomers discovered was a world unlike anything they had ever seen. The surface of Enceladus was covered with ice† In fact, Enceladus is the most reflective world in the solar system. Since Enceladus reflects most of the sunlight that falls on it, its surface temperature is extremely cold, averaging minus 324 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 198 degrees Celsius). Enceladus is the sixth largest Moon in the solar system with a diameter of 310 miles (500 kilometers). Enceladus jobs Saturn at an average distance of 148,000 miles (238,000 kilometers) and completes one orbit every 33 hours.

An active moon

Image of Enceladus taken by the Cassini spacecraft. NASA

Despite the success of the Voyager missions, much was still unknown about Enceladus. Hence, NASA planned the Cassini mission. Cassini would orbit the Earth Saturn for over a decade, taking some of the most stunning photos of the ringed planet and its moons. Enceladus was one of Cassini’s most visited worlds. Cassini revealed an otherworldly than science fiction. The south pole of Enceladus turned out to be the most interesting feature and was therefore observed several times by Cassini. The south pole of Enceladus seemed to be throwing some kind of material out into space. Closer observations revealed that Enceladus was, in fact, sending huge amounts of water vapor into space. This water was blown from giant geysers around the south pole of Enceladus. The region was named the Tiger Stripes after the large stripes that run across the South Pole. Geysers are generally indicators that a world is volcanically active, suggesting that the interior of Enceladus is very warm. This came as a surprise, as small worlds like Enceladus tend to release their heat into space quite quickly. That’s why most moons, like ours, are covered in craters and have no evidence of any recent activity. That such a small world is so active suggests that Enceladus is being supplied with large amounts of energy. With the Sun Because they were too far away to provide enough heat, astronomers looked to Saturn. As Enceladus orbits Saturn, the gravity of the gas giant pulls the little moon. Because of this, Enceladus gradually bends, stretching the moon when far away and compressing it when close. This bend creates friction in the core of Enceladus, which melts underground rock and gives off heat. This heat melts underground ice to form an underground ocean that can be ten times deeper than the deepest ocean on Soil† The warm subsurface ocean partially melts ice on the surface, creating the large fissures and fissures we can see today. As heat rises to the surface, it also causes large amounts of water to burst through the ice in the form of geysers. Some of this water vapor falls back and becomes a layer of fresh snow on Enceladus. The rest of the material escapes into space and becomes part of Saturn’s E ring.

Habitability of Enceladus

Enceladus geysers
Cassini took this photo of geysers erupting on Enceladus. NASA

The existence of liquid water on Enceladus makes it a potential habitable world. In addition to liquid water, the Cassini spacecraft has also detected organic matter in its geysers, and the geysers themselves suggest that the moon contains enough energy to initiate the formation of to live† Cassini was able to determine the chemistry of Enceladus by flying through the geysers, sampling the water vapor and determining its composition. Unfortunately, Cassini was not equipped with the technology needed to detect living organisms. If there is life on Enceladus, it is possible that some organisms will be thrown into space by geysers. A future mission to Enceladus could fly through the geysers and look for evidence of microscopic organisms.

#Saturns #moon #Enceladus

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