When William Herschel spotted Enceladus in 1789, he couldn’t possibly imagine what he was looking at. It wasn’t until 2005 when the Cassini spacecraft began flying close to the moon did it truly reveal itself.
See the Y-shaped feature snaking its way northward? Geologists call them “Y-shaped discontinuities.” Yeah, I was expecting some crazy scientific name for them too.
What are they? Scientists believe they form as surface material pushes northward and compress existing ice as it moves. The features also appear very young. You can tell because of the lack of impact craters along the feature.
What we don’t see
The incredible geysers of Enceladus aren’t seen in the image above. Those features appear around the moon’s south polar regions.
Did You Know: Scientists were stunned to see the icy world spewing water vapor from more than 100 geysers. And the geysers appear to erupt continuously. At least, as long as we’ve been looking at them. The constant spewing doesn’t just keep some of the moon’s surface looking young. It also supplies the material making up Saturn’s E-ring.
Enceladus also ranks up there with Europa as one of the most sought-after targets in the solar system. It may harbor a global ocean underneath its scratched, icy surface. Last year, scientists were combing over data from Cassini when they found the moon’s slight wobble as it circles Saturn could only be explained if an ocean lies beneath its surface.
What’s next for Cassini?
Late this year, Cassini will begin the final part of its mission dubbed the Grand Finale. During these sets of orbits, Cassini will dive between Saturn and its innermost ring 22 times. 20 years after it launched, Cassini will bid farewell as it plunges into Saturn’s atmosphere.
But before that happens, Cassini has a few more moon flybys to conduct. It wrapped up a Titan flyby on April 4 when it was just 615 miles above the moon’s surface. On May 6th, the spacecraft will revisit Titan at an altitude of 603 miles.
During the May flyby, Cassini will peer into the moon’s atmosphere in the hopes of better understanding its thermal structure and any potential seasonal variations.
The flybys of Titan will continue at the rate of about one a month through the rest of the year.