Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft to hunt for signs of life Saturn’s moon Enceladus (Wired UK)


Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft will fly through a “plume of icy spray” billowing from Saturn’s moon Enceladus to see if its ocean might be capable of supporting life.

The spacecraft, which has has been travelling around Saturn and its associated moons since 2004, will dive to within 30 miles of the surface of the icy moon and beam back data to awaiting scientists.

Cassini’s plunge toward’s the moon’s surface — it’s deepest dive to date — will see it sample the spray from the satellite’s vast ocean.

Nasa doesn’t think data that will be collected will show any signs of life but it says it will give an indication as to whether the Enceladus may be able to “host the ingredients for life”.

The moon’s plumes are expected to give scientists an insight into the giant, global, ocean that’s sitting below the frozen surface. Hunter Waite, from the team behind the mission, said the amount of hydrogen, if any, detected will indicate how much hydrothermal activity is going on the moon’s seafloor.

A flyby of Enceladus earlier this month saw Cassini capture the northern surface: showing fine details of its battered and cratered polar regions.

This time Cassini will pass by the south pole and capture images both on the approach and departure.

Nasa said that at the closest point of the mission the “cameras’ fields of view will drag across the surface”.

Cassini’s closest passing of Enceladus happened back in 2008 when it travelled just 16 miles above the surface, but this skirting of the moon will be the lowest the spacecraft has passed through its plumes.

Before Cassini ends its mission, by entering Saturn’s atmosphere in 2017, it will pass by Enceladus one more time, on December 19 2015.

The flyby is expected to take place at 17:00GMT.

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28 October 2015 | 12:25 pm – Source:


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