While recent manned spaceflight news has been somewhat disappointing, exciting things are still happening with robotic probes in deeper space.
Saturn probe Cassini did its closest pass yet at Enceladus yesterday, one of the stranger moons in the Saturn system. The bright white surface of Enceladus, mostly coated with clean water ice, is smoother and less cratered than most moons like it, with long rifts and valleys wrinkling its face. This would indicate recent geologic activity: tectonics caused by gravitational tidal forces from Saturn, wiping out impact craters and forming cracks and bumps. Enceladus also has a tenuous atmosphere, which might be caused by cryovolcanoes spewing material from underground, covering the moon’s surface with icy particles, and replenishing Saturn’s E ring with new material. This is all theory, of course: no volcanic plumes have been spotted on Cassini yet.
I’m watching the Enceladus Flyby page for updates, but there haven’t been any yet since the scheduled event yesterday. Maybe it was boring. More Enceladus photos by Cassini.
Also check out:
- Lovely photo of Prometheus and the rings
- Planetary.org’s Rocks Amidst the Rings, a lovely compilation of Cassini photography from Saturn.
- Cassini at Saturn, Kokogiak’s Flickr photoset of favorite Cassini imagery.