Carolina Martinez, JPL News Team
As we head into the close brush with the geysers of Enceladus, scientists, engineers and the public can come along on the ride as we count down to this amazing flyby, Cassini’s closest flyby yet of any of Saturn’s moons. On this blog we’ll post regular updates directly from the science and spacecraft teams.
Enceladus jumped to the top of scientists’ short list of places to look for life when the mission discovered giant geysers ejecting water-ice crystals and gas into space. Few people know that Michele Dougherty of Imperial College London and principal investigator on the Magnetometer instrument was the one who pushed to have Cassini’s flyby altitude of 1,300 kilometers lowered to just 175 kilometers during the third Enceladus flyby on July 14, 2005.
This was after two flybys of Enceladus in February and March 2005. Magnetometer data from those flybys showed strange things going on in the magnetic field lines. Michele and others thought if they could just come close enough, they might be able to figure out what was happening. She and others convinced the project to change the flyby altitude and lower it substantially. Not an easy task as these things are planned months in advance, but with a little luck and a lot of work everything fell into place and the team went closer. Lo and behold, the little moon, the brightest in the solar system, was active, and geysers of water and vapor were erupting from mysterious hot spots at the moon’s south pole.
You can see the original news release on the Magnetometer discovering an atmosphere around Enceladus at: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/media/cassini-031605.html
For a timeline of Enceladus discoveries, and a mission description with flyby details put together by Amanda Hendrix, Cassini scientist on the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS), see our media page:
While you’re there, check out the preview video, Taking the Plunge.
Oh and a real nice Enceladus interactive that lets you leapfrog from place to place all over the little moon is now online: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/flash/Enceladus/enceladus.html
Stay tuned for exciting events ahead.