Enceladus’ cratered surface resembles that of Earth’s moon, but it’s made of ice, not rock, and hides a salty, watery sea deep below. The sea surrounds a warm, rocky core that could provide the energy to nourish life.
On the heels of Thursday's big space news about the first scientific results from NASA’s mission to Pluto, another spacecraft did something impressive: The Cassini probe buzzed within 1,200 miles of the icy surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn and its satellites for more than ten years and is preparing for the closest encounter in history with the moon.
The new images focus on Enceladus’ north pole, which wasn’t illuminated by the sun during earlier phases of the mission. This flyby is just a warmup, though, for an October 28 encounter that will dip to just 30 miles above the moon’s southern hemisphere, passing through ice geysers to take its closest closeups.
Enceladus is especially intriguing because Cassini images back in 2005 showed that the moon is spewing ice crystals into space, and later observations showed there’s an ocean beneath the surface, where life could conceivably exist.