The Water Geysers of Enceladus

Fries with That? Credit : JPL

Fries with That?
Credit : JPL

Forget about the Bellagio,  the best dancing water fountain in this solar system isn’t in Vegas, its in orbit around Saturn’s moon Enceladus.  In the latest series of a series of images released by JPL from the remarkable Cassini spacecraft still on duty in the Saturn system, NASA has captured the simply stunning spectacle of water ice  being  shot from the Moon’s subsurface ocean into space.  Based on observations, it appears the phenomenon occurs due to regular variation in its orbits as it reaches a peak distance from Saturn. The full press release from JPL is here.

There is another aspect to this story which almost beggars belief.  Thanks to this historic mission, we now have documented evidence of water from another planetary body, including apparently organics, being shot out of a gravity well and into space. It is the solar system’s equivalent of a drive through window for a scientific treasure trove. And Enceladus isn’t even the most interesting moon in the system, a distinction which clearly goes to Titan. However, as NASA’s Planetary Division Director Jim Green glumly  assessed earlier this year,  despite all that has been learned about both the Saturnian and Jovian systems in recent years, there is no room in the budget for new Flagship missions to either of these two destinations.

While the U.S. is participating in the European Space Agency’s JUICE, Jupiter Icy Moon’s Explorer Mission, the total contribution of $100 million, or about the rolling 38 day average for the Orion capsule.

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