Today, NASA’s Cassini probe is expected to make a flyby of Enceladus, one of Saturn’s 62 moons. The spacecraft will pass through the icy surface of the moon and look for life in the oceans underneath.
Enceladus has many things in store to fascinate scientists. It has an icy landscape populated by deep canyons, commonly referred to as “tiger stripes”. Underneath this icy exterior, there’s an ocean. Parts of the ocean are heated by the tidal forces of Saturn and Dione, another moon of the ringed planet.
The moon is also home to seafloor vents, which force out water at a temperature of 194°F or more than that. Then, there are plumes of icy particles and water vapor that get ejected from the surface of Enceladus.
Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker, who is currently posted at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that it’s true that today’s flyby cannot be tagged as the closest scientists have ever come to this moon of Saturn, but it’s surely is the closest flyby across Enceladus’ south pole and through its plume. Expressing her excitement about the project, Spilker added that she and her team will be exploring a part of the plume that has not yet been sampled by Cassini.
Previously, Cassini spotted signs of surprising geological activities on Enceladus. It informed the world about the presence of organic molecules, water vapor and soaring plume of icy particles on the moon. Later the probe found that Enceladus is home to a global ocean and possibly hosts hydrothermal activities, which meant that the moon had all the vital ingredients required for supporting simple life.
The Cassini Project was not meant for detecting life, but based on its findings to date scientists are expecting that the spacecraft will be providing fresh insights regarding the habitability of Enceladus’ ocean environment. Scientists are saying that the moon’s ocean might be home to microscopic organisms similar to the ones residing in the deep sea volcanic vents of our home planet Earth.
To gather more information about Enceladus’ habitability, scientists are now planning to carry out studies for determining how much hydrothermal activities are taking place within the moon. The team carrying out the project is hoping to get hold of more data on the plume’s chemical composition, which will make the results of the studies more precise.