CICLOPS: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS
Captain's Log
July 28, 2014

The Wonder of Enceladus

Cruising around Saturn for the last decade has given us the chance to survey, in great detail and at our leisure, the worlds that inhabit this part of our solar system. It was, after all, the reason for our being here: To set eyes on the uncharted terrains forming the surfaces of Saturn's many moons and document in images, for posterity, the landforms and geological histories recorded there. That one might find present day activity anywhere in the solar system other than the Earth is a planetary explorer's great hope, and we had, as a matter of good planning, come prepared.

Nevertheless, happening upon the wondrous sight of soaring fountains of icy spray at the southern tip of the small moon, Enceladus, was intoxicating and profoundly moving ... not only for the sheer spectacle of it but for the weight of its meaning. Here was a place that was not ancient and long dead, but alive and bursting forth with activity. It said what some of us had long thought: this little moon just might be home to a subterranean body of liquid water that could be the best find of the entire mission.

Because of the scientific importance of our discovery, Cassini's trajectory was altered to send us repeatedly, during the course of the mission, close to the moon's south pole, and the teams assigned to each of Cassini's onboard instruments sprung into action. Results came pouring in: excess heat was found radiating from the basin, and along with the icy particles seen in our images came water vapor with traces of organic compounds. It was thrilling.

I took responsibility for the imaging team's observations of Enceladus' geysers and planned, along with members of my research group, a comprehensive survey of the region that took place over nearly 7 years.

Today, after more than five years of analysis and thought, our findings are finally published online. We have found in total 101 distinct geysers, one hundred of which erupt from the four, prominent, now famous `tiger stripe' fractures crossing the region. Comparison of our findings with those of other instruments, and with calculations of the magnitude and orientation of tidal forces that flex the surface on a daily basis has brought us to a conclusion that strengthens what we had all, little by little, over time, come to believe. In casting your sights on the geysering glory of Enceladus, you are looking at frozen mist that originates deep within the solar system's most accessible habitable zone.

As we contemplate the approaching end of Cassini's travels around Saturn, we dream of the day, hopefully not far in the future, when we can return to Enceladus to answer the question now uppermost in the mind: Could a second genesis of life have taken hold on this small icy moon of a hundred and one geysers? For we now know this: if life is indeed there, it is there for the taking.

Carolyn Porco
Cassini Imaging Team Leader
Space Science Institute
Boulder, CO

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Alliance Member Comments
SpaceOut (Nov 3, 2014 at 7:11 AM):
Thank you Cassini team. You've inspired me to create a website where you can order big canvas prints, posters, and murals of the best hits of the cosmos. All authentic too! It's called Space out your space!
nnystarman (Oct 21, 2014 at 8:17 PM):
When we go to Enceladus someday Carolyn we will find our answers. As of now it is one of infinite unsolved mysteries for the human race. The current explosion of knowledge in Astronomy including moons in our planetary system and exoplanets is simply amazing! Thx for sharing your findings and thanks for all the years of work you and your colleagues have put in to bring this information to light for all of us :-)
NeKto (Sep 27, 2014 at 3:47 PM):
i keep wondering about that one geyser that isn't in the 4 tiger stripes. so often, it is the odd ball that has the most interesting information attached. anything else unusual about that one? could it be in what once was a more active fracture in the past? might it be a harbinger of where the next stripe might form?
then again, it might be something else entirely.
ravi prakash dwivedi (Aug 15, 2014 at 12:24 PM):
i wonder...
Lee (Jul 30, 2014 at 1:44 PM):
Thanks for all the work you've done. The explanation helped me a lot. Any ideas on why the geysers are in parallel lines? Why at the south pole?

Lee in St. Paul
PiperPilot (Jul 28, 2014 at 5:36 PM):
We have got to go there. I hope soon so I can enjoy the findings. Thank you for the wonderful Captain's Log Carolyn.