NASA's Cassini spacecraft beams back images of water jets on the south pole of Enceladus

The Cassini spacecraft has beamed back images of Enceladus, an icy moon of Saturn. The narrow angle camera on board the spacecraft captured the image back in April, and shows jets of water erupting from Enceladus. The water jets are backlit by the Sun, while the reflected sunlight from Saturn is lighting up the moon. The data gathered by Cassini is helping scientists unravel the mysteries of the global subsurface ocean beneath the ice cap on Enceladus.

Cassini observing the plumes of water erupting from Enceladus. Image: Nasa.

Cassini observing the plumes of water erupting from Enceladus. Image: Nasa.

The jets of water were first discovered by Cassini, which executed a close flyby through the jets to take a closer look at the water jets. Unfortunately, the spacecraft was not equipped with all the sensors necessary to make a range of scientific observations on the jets, as the very existence of the water jets were unknown before Cassini got to Saturn. The jets of water originate from a geologically active region near the south pole, which are prominent because of striated features known as the "Tiger Stripes."


The "Tiger Stripes" can be seen towards the south pole. Image: NASA.

Cassini has finished 13 of the 22 grand finale orbits, a series of dives between Saturn and its innermost rings. The twenty year old mission will end with Cassini becoming a shooting star in the skies of the gas giant. Cassini will continue to beam back data till it disintegrates. NASA is crashing the probe into Saturn, as there is not enough fuel left on board to maintain control, and the drifting spacecraft may potentially contaminate moons such as Enceladus, which can potentially harbour life.

Updated Date: Jul 18, 2017 09:55 AM