Feeds

Say what you like about Saturn: its moons really have atmosphere

Cassini gets interested in Enceladus

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Security for virtualized datacentres

Cassini has found another Saturnian moon with an atmosphere: this time, it is Enceladus. The discovery was made during two recent flybys by the NASA space craft.

On the first fly-by, the team noticed a striking signature in Saturn's magnetic field. On the second pass, they noticed that the field was actually deflected by the moon. They also saw magnetic field oscillations, caused by ionised molecules interacting with the field lines, at a frequency consistent with ionised water vapour.

The icy moon Enceladus

Professor Michele Dougherty, of Imperial College, London and Principal Investigator for the Cassini magnetometer described the results as "a complete surprise".

"These new results from Cassini may be the first evidence of gases originating either from the surface or possibly from the interior of Enceladus," she added.

Enceladus is interesting for a number of reasons: it is a small icy world, thought to be the source of Saturn's E ring; it also is the most reflective object in the solar system, reflecting 90 per cent of the light that hits it.

But at just 500km in diameter, it is also too small to hold on to an atmosphere for very long, meaning it must be the source of its own atmosphere. This source needs to be continuous and very strong, the research team says, adding to speculation that the moon might be geologically active; generating its atmosphere either though volcanic activity, geysers or gases escaping from the surface or interior of the moon.

Scientists began to suspect that the moon is an active world after the Voyager fly-by in 1981, when it was determined that the moon was the source of the E ring. Ice volcanoes could also explain the moon's high reflectivity, as new eruptions would cover it continually in fresh ice. ®

Related stories

ESA flirts with NASA over Jupiter mission
Titan: rains of methane, mountains of ice
Countdown to launch for Deep Impact
Cassini probe snaps Mimas

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
'Utter killjoy Reg hacks have NEVER BEEN LAID', writes a fan
'Shuddit, smarty pants!' Some readers reacted badly to our last Doctor Who review ...
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
White LED lies: It's great, but Nobel physics prize-winning great?
How artificial lighting could offer an artificial promise
NASA eyeballs SOLAR HEAT BOMBS, MINI-TORNADOES and NANOFLARES on Sun
Astro boffins probe fiery star's hidden depths
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.