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Thinking About Saturn After Cassini

29 Nov 2017, 17:00 UTC
Thinking About Saturn After Cassini
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Several recent news items on Enceladus have me wanting to catch up with mission possibilities and the instruments that will drive them. NASA’s thinking in that direction takes in a remote sensing instrument called SELFI, an acronym standing for Submillimeter Enceladus Life Fundamentals Instrument. The plan here is to examine the chemical composition of the plumes of water vapor and icy particles that are regularly lofted into space from Enceladus’ south pole, in the region we’ve come to know as the ‘tiger stripes.’
Cassini data on the slight wobble in the orbital motion of Enceladus backs up the idea that the ocean beneath its ice is global, a body likely kept liquid by tidal energies as the moon is pulled and squeezed by Saturn in its orbit. The same process is likely the cause of the cracks that allow ocean water to escape into space, from perhaps as many as 100 sites on the surface.

Image: The Cassini spacecraft detected hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy material spraying from Enceladus during its deepest and last dive through the plume on Oct. 28, 2015. This graphic illustrates a theory on how water interacts with rock at the bottom of ...

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