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Waiting on Enceladus

17 Nov 2016, 15:13 UTC
Waiting on Enceladus
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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft completed its deepest-ever dive through the icy plume of Enceladus on Oct. 28, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Of all the possible life-beyond-Earth questions hanging fire, few are quite so intriguing as those surrounding the now famous plumes of the moon Enceladus: what telltale molecules are in the constantly escaping jets of water vapor, and what dynamics inside the moon are pushing them out?
Seldom, if ever before, have scientists been given such an opportunity to investigate the insides of a potentially habitable celestial body from the outside.
The Cassini mission to Saturn made its closest to the surface (and last) plume fly-through a year ago, taking measurements that the team initially said they would report on within a few weeks.
That was later updated by NASA to include this guidance: Given the important astrobiology implications of these observations, the scientists caution that it will be several months before they are ready to present their detailed findings.
The reference to “important astrobiology implications” certainly could cover some incremental advance, but it does seem to at least hint of something more.
I recently contacted the Jet Propulsion Lab for an update on the fly-through results and learned that a paper has ...

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