NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has begun transmitting its latest images of Saturn’s icy, geologically active moon Enceladus, acquired during the dramatic 28 October flyby in which the probe passed about 49 kilometres (30 miles) above the moon’s south polar region. The spacecraft will continue transmitting its data from the encounter for the next several days.
“Cassini’s stunning images are providing us a quick look at Enceladus from this ultra-close flyby, but some of the most exciting science is yet to come,” says Linda Spilker, the mission’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Researchers will soon begin studying data from Cassini’s gas analyser and dust detector instruments, which directly sampled the moon’s plume of gas and dust-sized icy particles during the flyby. Those analyses are likely to take several weeks, but should provide important insights about the composition of the global ocean beneath Enceladus’ surface and any hydrothermal activity occurring on the ocean floor. The potential for such activity in this small ocean world has made Enceladus a prime target for future exploration in search of habitable environments in the Solar System beyond Earth.
In addition to the processed images, unprocessed, or “raw,” images appear on the Cassini mission website here.
Cassini’s next and final close Enceladus flyby will take place on 19 December when the spacecraft will measure the amount of heat coming from the moon’s interior. The flyby will be at an altitude of 4,999 kilometres (3,106 miles).
Additional information and multimedia products for Cassini’s final Enceladus flybys are available here.