NASA's Spacecraft To Make Closest Ever Flyby Of Enceladus

Posted: Oct 28 2015, 1:07am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 28 2015, 10:03pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


NASA's Spacecraft to Make Closest Ever Flyby of Enceladus
Credit: NASA/JPL

Cassini spacecraft will dive deep into the Saturn moon's icy plume on Wednesday.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is about to take a deep plunge into Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

The spacecraft will fly just 30 miles above the moon and get a closer ever look at the mysterious plume of water erupting from its south polar region.

“On Wednesday, we will plunge deeper into the magnificent plume coming from the south pole than we ever have before, and we will collect the best samples ever from an ocean beyond Earth.”  Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. said in a statement. 

Cassini is orbiting Saturn system for the past 11 years and astronomers have found evidences especially the plume that indicates Enceladus may sustain life. The plume on Enceladus, which was spotted in 2005, thought to be originated from liquid water beneath its icy surface. The sample analysis will shed a new light into Moon’s potential to host a life.

“Enceladus is not just an ocean world, it's a world that might provide a habitable environment for life as we know it.” Niebur said.

 Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University suggests that Saturn’s moon has apparently got everything required for the life to survive and thrive.  “Make a list of the requirements for terrestrial-type life—liquid water, organics, minerals, energy, chemical gradients—and Cassini has found evidence for all of them in the plume of Enceladus.”

Though Cassini is not designed for hunting habitable systems but the flyby is expected to provide key details that will help assess whether Enceladus has the right stuff to sustain extraterrestrial life. The focus is on detecting the presence on molecular hydrogen in the plume which would provide evidence for hydrothermal activity or a potential energy source for life in distant body.

The Wednesday’s flyby marks the 21th close encounter with Enceladus since 2004 when Cassini reached the planet. Over the years, the spacecraft have been able to gather sufficient data that offers answers to the questions related to habitable environment on Enceladus.

Cassinin will make its last flyby of Enceladus in September 2017 before wrapping up a more  than a decade-long mission.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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