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Cassini Says Goodbye to Enceladus

Enceladus has an ocean that scientists hope can support life

(Mirror Daily, United States) – The NASA spacecraft has been exploring Saturn and its moons for 11 years and now Cassini says goodbye to Enceladus.

Enceladus is one of Saturn’s moons and has been ‘visited’ by Cassini several times already. Although the spacecraft usually keeps its distance from the moon, floating a few million miles away from it and making observations from there, it has approached it a few times. The closest it got was within 16 miles of the cosmic object’s surface. Being so close, the probe managed to capture some ocean spray which usually erupts from the moon’s south pole. Using this sample of water, scientists hope to discover whether the ocean on this moon can support life.

But on Enceladus, ocean is not just at the south pole, but all over the moon’s surface. However, it not quite that visible as it is covered by large blocks of ice. In this final flyby, Cassini will use its Composite Infrared Spectrometer to observe and map the heat flow of the Enceladus moon. This is not that easy as Saturn has one year long winters. In other words, while we get to have all for seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall, for Saturn winter takes up an entire year. During this time, the surface of the Enceladus moon is completely frozen, which makes it difficult for scientists to figure out how the water looks under the ice and whether there are some sort of creatures or at least some plants under there.

The sample Cassini collected was actually gas, so this is why they need to measure how high the temperature is beneath the icy surface and the south pole of the moon is the best place to do this, because in that area the ice is very thin. But the spacecraft has to keep its distance for this last flight as if it comes too close, the heat maping won’t have the same results.

The mission will continue in 2017, but Cassini will then stay at an even bigger distance than it has now, as scientists believe a more general overview of the moon is needed. Researchers also hope, the samples Cassini got will prove that Enceladus could support life.

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