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The mysterious moon of Saturn Enceladus

The mysterious moon of Saturn Enceladus

Enceladus, is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn. It is only 500 kilometers (310 mi) in diameter, about a tenth of that of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Enceladus is mostly covered by fresh, clean ice, reflecting almost all the sunlight that strikes it and making its surface temperature at noon reach only −198 °C. Enceladus has a wide range of surface features, ranging from old, heavily cratered regions to young, tectonically deformed terrains that formed as recently as 100 million years ago, despite its small size.

Enceladus was discovered in 1789 by William Herschel, but little was known about it until the two Voyager spacecraft passed nearby in the early 1980s. In 2005, the Cassini spacecraft started multiple close flybys of Enceladus, revealing its surface and environment in greater detail. In particular, Cassini discovered a water-rich plume venting from the south polar region of Enceladus. Cryovolcanoes near the south pole shoot geyser-like jets of water vapor, other volatiles, and solid material, including sodium chloride crystals and ice particles, into space, totaling approximately 200 kilograms (440 lb) per second. Over 100 geysers have been identified. Some of the water vapor falls back as "snow"; the rest escapes, and supplies most of the material making up Saturn's E ring. According to NASA scientists, the plumes at Enceladus are similar in composition to comets. In 2014, NASA reported that Cassini found evidence for a large south polar subsurface ocean of liquid water within Enceladus with a thickness of around 10 km.

These geyser observations, along with the finding of escaping internal heat and very few (if any) impact craters in the south polar region, show that Enceladus is geologically active today. Enceladus is, like many satellites in the extensive systems of giant planets, trapped in an orbital resonance. Its resonance with Dione excites its orbital eccentricity, which tidal forces damp, resulting in tidal heating of its interior, and offering a possible explanation for the geological activity.

1 comentario:

  1. Such a small object is so far from the sun, and yet so geologically active; I never would have thought so.

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