Enceladus

Enceladus is the brightest moon of Saturn, the planet in the solar system that has 82 natural satellites. Enceladus has water geysers, a temperate ocean, hydrothermal waters, and warm regions at the poles.

Discovery of Enceladus

At the end of the 18th century, the beautiful planet Saturn attracted the glances of William Herschel and his sister Carolina, who did not stop marveling at the magnetic beauty of the planet with the rings.

With their early telescope, they had seen six moons orbiting Saturn.

During one of their observations, in the year 1789, they discovered the existence of a seventh moon, which was like a tiny point that moved around the planet Saturn.

One of his sons, John Herschel, proposed to give him the name of Enceladus, one of the giants of Greek mythology, son of Uranus.

John Herschel
John Herschel English mathematician and astronomer. Credit: Wikipedia.

The Herschel brothers could never imagine that man would be able to send an artifact that would obtain such sharp images of this distant moon located almost 1,500 million km from Earth.

Before the launch of the Voyager and Cassini probes in the 1980s, the only known data for Enceladus were the characteristics of its orbit, and an estimate of its mass, density, and albedo.

Enceladus Size

This moon is about 500 kilometers in diameter, and it is the brightest satellite of Saturn because it is covered in ice, reflecting all the light it receives.

Enceladus is much smaller than Titan (5,149 km) and our Moon (3,474 km)

Where is Enceladus located

Enceladus orbits Saturn 180,000 km from the center of the planet, in the middle of the E ring, which is made up of small particles of ice and dust that are continually being replenished.

Enceladus moons
The Hubble Space Telescope portrays Saturn with six of its moons. Credit: NASA

The hypothesis that Enceladus is the main source of the E ring has been supported by data obtained with the Voyager 2 spacecraft and the Cassini orbiter.

Scientists believe that there are a large number of micrometeorites that, when colliding with the surface of Enceladus, expel particles into space that form a cloud.

This cloud of particles, escaping from the gravitation of this moon, remains orbiting Saturn, thus forming what we know as the E ring.

Enceladus Orbit
Artist’s impression of the orbit of Enceladus as seen from above Saturn’s north pole. Created with the help of Celestia software. Credit: fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/

Renewed interest in Enceladus

The great interest aroused by the images provided by the Voyayer 1 probes in 1980 and Voyager2 in August 1981, prompted a detailed study of this Moon.

Starting in June 2004, when the Cassini / Huygens mission was put into orbit around Saturn, the scientific study of this enigmatic moon became a high priority objective.

Cassini probe
Artist’s picture of the Cassini-Huyghens probe reaching Saturn. Credit: ESA.

One of the great discoveries of the Cassini spacecraft instruments was to determine that Enceladus’ south pole region has a temperature 15 degrees higher than the rest of the surface.

The existence of this geological activity makes this small moon an ideal target for the search for extraterrestrial life.

Enceladus water
NASA announced that there is evidence of water on Enceladus. Credit: NASA.

In March 2006, the journal Science published that the Cassini probe found possible reservoirs of liquid water at shallow depths, which erupt like geysers on the surface of Enceladus.

Some high-resolution images show huge jets that launch large amounts of particles into space at high speed.

Evidence and models suggest that the jets escape from liquid water reservoirs located shallow to the surface.

Enceladus is a recent moon

The relatively small number of craters indicates that Enceladus is a young star, which was formed after the time of great activity of meteorites that impacted the first planets and moons of the newly formed solar system.

One of Enceladus’ shallow fractures is 200 kilometers long and 5-10 km wide, with a depth of 1 kilometer.

Enceladus
Image published on the Observatory website, February 8, 2012. Credit: Cassini Project Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA.

The moon Enceladus has become a strong candidate to host extraterrestrial life.

And not only because of the microorganisms that can survive in the most extreme conditions, but also because of something more complex, aquatic life, living under the ice.

It is believed that Saturn would be agitating the inner ocean of Enceladus, which would make the water warm, and that there are even hydrothermal waters.