NASA releases images of Cassini's final observations of the water jets on Enceladus

NASA has released a movie made from images captured during Cassini's final observations of the Saturnian moon, Enceladus. The sequence of images covers a period of fourteen hours, captured on 28 August, 2017, with the narrow angle camera on board the spacecraft.

Water plumes on Enceladus. Image: NASA.

Water plumes on Enceladus. Image: NASA.

Cassini has previously beamed back a number of images of the water spouts on Enceladus, which erupt near the south pole of the Moon, close to a geologically tortured region known as the "Tiger Stripes". The Tiger Stripes are prominent features that stretch across a large section of the moon. The Cassini mission was the first to discover the jets of water on Enceladus, and also found evidence that an ancient asteroid strike had shifted the poles on the moon.

The water spouts originate from a geologically active region on the moon, and Cassini has passed through the plumes in a close flyby to observe the water jets better. As scientists did not know that the plumes existed when the Cassini mission was planned, the spacecraft was not equipped with all the necessary scientific instruments needed to study the plumes thoroughly. Still, Cassini and the Hubble Space Telescope have together increased the human understanding of the remote icy world.

Life as we know it on Earth requires liquid water, a source of chemical energy to support metabolism, and the right mix of ingredients including oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, phosphorous and sulfur. Cassini has detected the presence of nearly all the requirements on Enceladus, except for phosphorus and sulfur. Scientists suspect that the rocky core of Enceladus may have phosphorous and sulfur as well, considering the elements were found in meteorites that are thought to be chemically similar to the kind of rocky core Enceladus has.

The Cassini Spacecraft is going to plunge into the atmosphere of Titan on 15 September, in a final science rich dive. The spacecraft is being destroyed as there is not enough fuel left on board to maintain control, and a drifting Cassini may end up on moons such as Titan or Enceladus, which may harbour life, and end up contaminating the moons with microbes piggybacking from Earth. Such a contamination may have disastrous consequences on any local forms of life. Cassini has executed a "Goodbye Kiss" maneuver around Titan, which puts the spacecraft on target to burn up in the hydrogen rich Saturnian atmosphere.

Published Date: Sep 12, 2017 07:00 pm | Updated Date: Sep 12, 2017 07:00 pm