Enceladus Moon Facts
Cassini image of the geologically active moon.
- Enceladus is the second moon in distance from Saturn.
- It is only 311 miles (500 km) in diameter, the sixth largest of Saturn's moons.
- It orbits around Saturn every 1.37 days at an average distance of 148,000 miles (238,000 km).
- It is believed that Saturn's gravity impacts tremendous tidal forces on Enceladus turning a layer of its subsurface into liquid.
- The "tiger stripes" at its south pole are fissures which erupt with warm ice.
- Ice erupting from Enceladus travels at over 800 miles (1300 km) an hour travelling thousands of miles into space.
- The eruptions of ice from Enceladus make up Saturn's outer E-ring.
- Enceladus reflects 100% of the light it receives, making it the most reflective object in the entire solar system.
- The surface area of Enceladus is only 15% larger than Texas.
- Enceladus was discovered in 1789 by the British astronomer William Herschel.
Surface fractures, nicknamed "The Tiger Stripes"
Enceladus SurfaceEnceladus has several different types of terrain. Parts of the moon are cratered but other areas are smooth indicating a young, geologically active surface. There are also fissures, plains and crustal deformations.
Enceladus AtmosphereEnceladus has an extremely thin atmosphere consisting mainly of water vapor. The moon is far too small to hold on to its own atmosphere but it is being constantly replenished by eruptions of ice from its surface.
Enceladus TemperatureAs a result of reflecting so much light, surface temperatures on Enceladus are on average around -201C (-330F).
Fissures erupting with ice particles at Enceladus's south pole
Life on EnceladusThe water ice erupting from the south pole of Enceladus is most probably caused by a deep warm ocean under its frozen surface. In 2008 the Cassini spacecraft conducted an ambitious fly through of the plumes, detecting huge amounts of organic chemicals emanating from the small moon. Sodium has also been detected in the spray meaning that the subsurface ocean would be salty just like on Earth. All of these ingredients make Enceladus one of the most exciting and promising places in the solar system where life could exist.
Origin of NameEnceladus was named after a giant from Greek mythology.
Missions to Enceladus
Titan Saturn System MissionLaunch: 2020s
Summary: Although TSSM's mission is to primarily study Titan it will also make at least seven flybys of Enceladus studying the unusual cryovolcanic plumes at the moon's south pole.
Cassini-HuygensLaunch: October 1997
Arrival: July 2004
Agency: NASA/ESA (Europe)
Summary: Cassini made numerous flybys of Enceladus as part of its 13 year mission to study the Saturnian system. These yielded extremely valuable information, none more so than the discovery of water ice erupting from its geologically active south pole. Further study of the plumes uncovered the presence of sodium around the area opening up the possibility of a salt water ocean underneath its surface.
Voyager 1 and 2Launch: August-September 1977
Arrival: November 1980-August 1981
Summary: Voyager 1 made a successful flyby of Enceladus in November 1980 over 125,000 miles (200,000 km) from the small moon. Due to the distance it wasn't able to capture great images although it did reveal a highly reflective surface and an absence of craters. Nearly a year later Voyager 2 passed much closer sending back high resolution pictures revealing the variety of terrains the moon possessed.
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