Hi! My name is Katalin Herman at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
I'm a systems engineer on the spacecraft operations team for the Cassini mission to Saturn, here with the latest news from the ringed planet.
Cassini will be flying by Saturn's geyser-spewing moon, Enceladus, twice this month—on October 9th and on the 31st.
The first flyby on October 9th flyby will be the closest flyby in the entire mission! We will bring the spacecraft down to just 16 miles, or 25 kilometers, from the surface. The spacecraft will be flying through the plumes at the south pole, which jet icy water vapor hundreds of miles into space.
The emphasis in this flyby is not on taking pictures of the surface but on trying to figure out what’s in the plume. We’ll be taking the spacecraft deeper into the plume than ever before and analyzing the particles and gases that we find.
Scientists are intrigued by the possibility that liquid water, perhaps even an ocean, may exist beneath the surface of Enceladus, and trace amounts of organic molecules have also been detected. And these are the building blocks for life, as we know it, so this discovery raises tantalizing possibilities about whether the moon is habitable.
And then three weeks later, on Oct. 31st, the cameras and other optical remote sensing instruments will be primary, they’ll be front and center, to take pictures of the fractures that slash across the moon’s south polar region. The team calls them “tiger stripes” because of their appearance. And this flyby will be about 10 times higher than the previous one, at 124 miles, or 200 kilometers.
We learn more and more about this intriguing place each time we fly by it.
After the August 11 encounter, we learned that the temperatures over one of the tiger-stripe fractures were lower than those measured in earlier flybys. And results also suggest that the intensity of the plume was different when compared to earlier encounters. So the moon is changing over time.
After these two flybys, Cassini will get back to looking at Saturn’s biggest moon,Titan, coming up quickly on Nov. 3. And as far as Enceladus goes, we won’t visit again until November of next year.
To keep up to date with the latest news from Cassini, please visit our website, “saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.”
That’s it for now, I’m Katalin Herman from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.