This is Enceladus, the sixth largest moon of Saturn at around the size of England. Take a look at those strange looking blue lines near it’s south pole, they are nicknamed the “Tiger Stripes“ and are fractures in the moon’s icy crust. This is a place where the temperature of the frigid satellite is higher, and eruptions of ice particles, water vapour, and organic compounds vent from these fissures into space. Scientists are really excited about Enceladus and suspect that this might be yet another place in our solar system with a sub surface ocean.
The Nasa Cassini Spacecraft made a flyby of Enceladus in November 2009, and got a really good look at the jets
erupting along a tiger stripe’s length. In fact this new 3D image was made of part of a tiger stripe called Baghdad Sulcus, and shows the “warm” areas. Warm meaning a higher temeperature than the surroundings, these hotspots are still bone chillingly cold, (between -100 degrees Fahrenheit, and 135 degrees Fahrenheit) and are about half a mile wide.
These hotspots will be examined to test if, as scientists suspect, these are the very points where the geysers are coming from. The fact that these are warm areas suggest that the icy, organic, watery plumes are coming from melted ice underground. Scientists have also detected an array of new jets that have not been seen before.
Enceladus seems to be stealing Europa’s thunder lately. Europa an icy moon of Jupiter, is believed to hold an ocean under it’s thick frozen crust with the possibility of extraterrestrial life existing there. But Enceladus is the new kid on the block, with organic compounds, warm areas, and maybe an underground ocean too, just like Europa.
The pace of discovery is very fast indeed with our incredible spacecraft orbiting the other planets and moons, you just never know what will be discovered next. Enceladus looks to be joining the ranks of extremely interesting and unique satellites such as Europa and Titan…Enceladus has scientists very excited.