NASA Cassini Completes Final Close Flyby Of Enceladus

Posted: Dec 22 2015, 4:45am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

NASA Cassini Completes Final Close Flyby of Enceladus
NASA's Cassini spacecraft paused during its final close flyby of Enceladus to focus on the icy moon's craggy, dimly lit limb, with the planet Saturn beyond. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
  • Cassini Probe shows Awesome Photos of Enceladus

The Cassini probe has shown some awesome photos of the moon of Saturn, Enceladus.

A new photo of Enceladus, the icy ocean-filled moon of Saturn has turned up. The image was caught on August 18th. NASA’s Cassini probe was about 85,000 miles away from Enceladus’ surface.

Some of the areas of Enceladus are younger than other loci. The novel surfaces have not yet accumulated craters. There are scars on the older surfaces as the materials build up on top of each other. This info may be used to estimate the ages of planets and asteroids.

"This final Enceladus flyby elicits feelings of both sadness and triumph," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. "While we're sad to have the close flybys behind us, we've placed the capstone on an incredible decade of investigating one of the most intriguing bodies in the solar system."

Enceladus is 313 miles in width. And it is the best candidate among moons for holding alien life forms. An ocean of moving salty water lies beneath its surface.

During its final close flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus, NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this view featuring the nearly parallel furrows and ridges of the feature named Samarkand Sulci. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

From the southern polar regions, geysers spout matter from this ocean. Cassini has traveled through these geysers several times and it has detected carbon particles among the contents.

Carbon as we know is the very stuff from which life is made. Scientists are looking for ways to detect life directly on Enceladus. The Cassini probe is not meant to do this though. Two teams of experts are designing missions for this express purpose.

One of these missions will be called the Enceladus Life Finder while the other one will be the Life Investigation for Enceladus. These two space missions will return samples of plumes from Enceladus to earth.

As yet, both missions are merely on paper. Meanwhile, the Cassini mission has been in operation for a while. NASA has had the Cassini probe send in data via transmissions.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft peered out over the northern territory on Saturn's moon Enceladus, capturing this view of two different terrain types. A region of older terrain covered in craters that have been modified by geological processes is seen at right, while at left is a province of relatively craterless, and presumably more youthful, wrinkled terrain. Cassini acquired the view during its final close flyby of Enceladus, on Dec. 19, 2015. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

This happens to be the final flyby for the Cassini mission. It is a time of sweet sorrow. On the one hand, ending the flyby will bring its sadness in tow, but then the accomplishments will shine on in the annals of NASA’s worldly achievements.

"We bid a poignant goodbye to our close views of this amazing icy world," said Linda Spilker, the mission's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"Cassini has made so many breathtaking discoveries about Enceladus, yet so much more remains to be done to answer that pivotal question, 'Does this tiny ocean world harbor life?'"

The investigation of some of the most inaccessible areas of the solar system remains one of the major achievements of the Cassini probe. NASA has been going about its job of sending spacecraft into the depths of the empyrean heights.

And while up until now it has been underfunded, this time around it got more funds from Congress than was expected. Even President Obama requested less than was given by Congress. The future is open as far as sending missions to other planets and mining asteroids is concerned.

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