Wispy fingers of bright, icy particles reach several tens of thousands of kilometers outward from Enceladus into the E ring, while the moonís active south polar jets continue to fire away.
This astonishing, never-before-seen structure is made visible with the Sun almost directly behind the Saturn system from Cassiniís vantage point. The Sun-Enceladus-spacecraft angle here is 175 degrees, a viewing geometry in which structures made of tiny particles brighten substantially.
These features are very likely the result of particles injected into Saturn orbit by the Enceladan geysers: those injected in the direction of the moonís orbital motion end up on larger, slower orbits and trail Enceladus in its orbit, and those injected into the opposite direction end up smaller, faster orbits and lead Enceladus. (Orbital motion is counter-clockwise.) In addition, the configuration of wisps may hint at an interaction between Saturnís magnetosphere and the torrent of particles issuing from Enceladus.
In addition to the wisps, another unexpected detail is the dark gore in the center of the ring, following the moon in its orbit, likely brought about by the sweeping action of Enceladus as it orbits in the center of the E ring.
The view looks down onto Enceladus (504 kilometers, 313 miles across) from about 15 degrees above the ringplane. Tethys (1,062 kilometers, 660 miles across) is visible to the left of Enceladus.
The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Sept. 15 at a distance of approximately 2.1 million kilometers (1.3 million miles) from Enceladus. Image scale is 128 kilometers (80 miles) per pixel.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The imaging team consists of scientists from the US, England, France, and Germany. The imaging operations center and team lead (Dr. C. Porco) are based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.