A team of NASA experts will be discussing the event of Cassini spacecraft’s flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus on Wednesday, October 28. The spacecraft will fly through an icy spray of plume coming out of the moon, and the team of NASA experts will be chatting about the historic event via a teleconference by 2 p.m EDT on Monday, October 26.
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Those that will be discussing at the event are Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington; Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California; and Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL, among other space experts.
News reporters as well as the general public will be able to submit questions to the participants via the social media hashtag #askNASA. The audio of the event will stream live on NASA website and Ustream, and accompanying visuals will also be available for everyone to access.
It is projected that Cassini will get closest to Enceladus by Wednesday at 11:22 a.m. at an altitude of 30 miles (49 km) above the moon’s south polar region. The assignment for the Cassini in diving deeper into Enceladus plume is to collect scientific data about the ocean beneath the moon’s icy surface among other things.
It is also expected that the spacecraft will be able to give facts about hydrothermal activity from inside Enceladus, and whether the underground ocean might be suitable to hosting potential life. And then scientists should be able to definitely know these things once the ion and neutral mass spectrometer instrument (INMS) aboard the spacecraft is able to detect the molecular hydrogen within the plume coming out from Enceladus - according to NASA.
"Confirmation of molecular hydrogen in the plume would be an independent line of evidence that hydrothermal activity is taking place in the Enceladus ocean, on the seafloor," said Hunter Waite, INMS team lead at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "The amount of hydrogen would reveal how much hydrothermal activity is going on."
The researchers will also be able to fully analyze the chemistry of the plume by deploying the cosmic dust analyzer (CDA) instrument aboard the Cassini; considering the fact that the experiment is also to expose the aircraft to heavier and massive molecules or organics above what the spacecraft is used to, in higher altitudes beyond the plume.
The CDA will be able to detect around 10,000 particles per second in the given plume, while still being able to tell the compounds within the plume ejecting into the space all over Saturn.
"There's really no room for ambiguity," said Sascha Kempf, a CDA team co-investigator at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "The data will either match what our models are telling us about the rate at which the plume is producing material, or our concept of how the plume works needs additional thought."
It must, however, be noted that it will be several months before scientists are fully able to analyze the results obtained from flyby and present their findings. Images of Enceladus will be taken by Cassini. You can learn more about the three Enceladus flyby
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"Cassini truly has been a discovery machine for more than a decade," said Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This incredible plunge through the Enceladus plume is an amazing opportunity for NASA and its international partners on the Cassini mission to ask, 'Can an icy ocean world host the ingredients for life?'"