Cassini pinpoints source of icy jets on Enceladus

Following an extremely low flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus on the 11th August 2008, instruments on NASA's Cassini spacecraft have managed to capture the source of icy water jets that have been seen erupting from the moon's frozen surface - similar to the way guysers do on Earth.

Source on guysers on the surface of Enceladus
Image showing the source of some water guysers on the surface of Enceladus.
Credit: NASA/JPL

The geysers originate from fractures running along the moon's south pole, known as Sulci, and appear to be spurting out water vapour at approximately 400 metres per second (800 mph). The images show the fractures are about 300 meters (980 feet) deep, with V-shaped inner walls. Some of the fractures show extensive deposits of fine material on each side, and the terrain around the fractures appears to be littered with blocks of ice tens of metres in size and larger - that's about the size of a small house.

The recent flyby saw the spacecraft pass within 50 kilometres (30 miles) of the moon's surface at a speed of 64,000 kilometres per hour (40,000 miles per hour). In order to obtain clear images, the NASA team had to spin the spacecraft in the direction of the planet's travel to counteract the fast motion of the region through the camera's viewfinder. The results speak for themselves and show the most detailed images of Enceladus to date.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, click here.