New images and data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft give scientists a unique Saturn-lit view of active fissures through the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus. They reveal a more complicated web of warm fractures than previously thought.
Small water ice particles fly from fissures in the south polar region of Saturn's
moon Enceladus in this image taken during the Aug. 13, 2010,
flyby of the moon by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI
Scientists working jointly with Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer and its high-resolution imaging camera have constructed the highest-resolution heat intensity maps yet of the hottest part of a region of long fissures spraying water vapor and icy particles from Enceladus. These fissures have been nicknamed "tiger stripes." Additional high-resolution spectrometer maps of one end of the tiger stripes Alexandria Sulcus and Cairo Sulcus reveal never-before-seen warm fractures that branch off like split ends from the main tiger stripe trenches. They also show an intriguing warm spot isolated from other active surface fissures.
"The ends of the tiger stripes may be the places where the activity is just getting started, or is winding down, so the complex patterns of heat we see there may give us clues to the life cycle of tiger stripes," said John Spencer, a Cassini team scientist based at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.
The images and maps come from the Aug. 13, 2010, Enceladus flyby, Cassini's last remote sensing flyby of the moon until 2015. The geometry of the many flybys between now and 2015 will not allow Cassini to do thermal scans like these, because the spacecraft will be too close to scan the surface and will not view the south pole. This Enceladus flyby, the 11th of Cassini's tour, also gave Cassini its last look at any part of the active south polar region in sunlight. (read more)