On Oct. 28, 2015, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will take the deepest dive ever through the plume of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Scientists hope this close flyby will shed light on what’s happening beneath the moon’s icy surface. With a global ocean and likely hydrothermal activity, could Enceladus have the ingredients needed to support simple forms of life?
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will sample the ocean of Saturn’s moon Enceladus on Wednesday, Oct. 28, when it flies through the moon’s plume of icy spray.
This artist’s rendering showing a cutaway view into the interior of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft discovered the moon has a global ocean and likely hydrothermal activity. A plume of ice particles, water vapor and organic molecules sprays from fractures in the moon’s south polar region.
Cassini launched in 1997 and entered orbit around Saturn in 2004. Since then, it has been studying the huge planet, its rings and its magnetic field. Here are some things to know about the mission’s upcoming close flyby of Enceladus:
— Enceladus is an icy moon of Saturn. Early in its mission, Cassini discovered Enceladus has remarkable geologic activity, including a towering plume of ice, water vapor and organic molecules spraying from its south polar region. Cassini later determined the moon has a global ocean and likely hydrothermal activity, meaning it could have the ingredients needed to support simple life.
— The flyby will be Cassini’s deepest-ever dive through the Enceladus plume, which is thought to come from the ocean below. The spacecraft has flown closer to the surface of Enceladus before, but never this low directly through the active plume.