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Enceladus, discovered in 1789 by William Herschel, is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn. [1] Until the two Voyager spacecraft and Pioneer 11 passed near it in the early 1980s, very little was known about this small moon besides the identification of water ice on its surface. The Voyagers showed that Enceladus is only 500 kilometers in diameter and reflects almost 100% of the sunlight that strikes it. Voyager 1 found that Enceladus orbited in the densest part of Saturn's diffuse E ring, indicating a possible association between the two, while Voyager 2 revealed that despite the moon's small size, it had a wide range of terrains ranging from old, heavily cratered surfaces to young, tectonically-deformed terrain.

The Cassini spacecraft of the mid- to late 2000s acquired additional data on Enceladus, answering a number of the mysteries opened by the Voyager spacecraft and starting a few new ones. Cassini performed several close flybys of Enceladus in 2005, revealing the moon's surface and environment in greater detail. In particular, the probe discovered a water-rich plume venting from the moon's south polar region. This discovery, along with the presence of escaping internal heat and very few (if any) impact craters in the south polar region, shows that Enceladus is geologically active today. Moons around gas giants are typically more active, and warmer than one might otherwise expect, because of the significant tidal forces and magnetic disruption produced by orbiting such large bodies so closely.

Enceladus is one of only three outer solar system bodies (along with Jupiter's moon Io and Neptune's moon Triton) where active eruptions have been observed. Analysis of the outgassing suggests that it originates from a body of sub-surface liquid water, which along with the unique chemistry found in the plume, has fueled speculations that Enceladus may be important in the study of astrobiology. [2] The discovery of the plume has added further weight to the argument that material released from Enceladus is the source of the E-ring.

External Links

... | Mimas | Enceladus | Tethys | ...

Saturn (satellites)
Janus' group | Mimas | Enceladus | Tethys | Dione | Rhea | Titan | Hyperion | Iapetus | Inuit group | Gallic group | Norse group
See also: Pronunciation key | Rings of Saturn

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