Astronomy for all
Saturday January 5th 2013

Enceladus – Cryovolcanism in Motion

On Oct. 5, 2008, just after coming within 25 kilometers (15.6 miles) of the surface of Enceladus, NASA’s Cassini captured this stunning mosaic of this geologically active moon of Saturn. By active I mean that it experiences cryovolcanism, where water and other volatiles are the materials erupted instead of silicate rock. It is believed that ejected matter may be responsible for assisting in the replenishment of Saturn’s E ring. It is the rarity of craters  on the surface that suggests remarkable tectonic activity for a relatively small world.  Indeed it is thought that rising warm ice that periodically rises to the surface and churns the icy crust of this moon explain the heat behaviour and odd surface of the moon’s south polar region according to a new paper using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

“Cassini appears to have caught Enceladus in the middle of a burp,” said Francis Nimmo, a planetary scientist at the University of California Santa Cruz and a co-author of the new paper in Nature Geoscience. “These tumultuous periods are rare and Cassini happens to have been watching the moon during one of these special epochs.”

In this enhanced-color view, regions that appear blue-green are thought to be coated with larger grains than those that appear white or gray. Portions of the tiger stripe fractures, or sulci, are visible along the terminator at lower right, surrounded by a circumpolar belt of mountains. The icy moon’s famed jets emanate from at least eight distinct source regions, which lie on or near the tiger stripes. However, in this view, the most prominent feature is Labtayt Sulci, the approximately one-kilometer (0.6 miles) deep northward-trending chasm located just above the center of the mosaic.

Souther Region of Enceladus: Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Southern Region of Enceladus: Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Details on how the image was constructed are available here.

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