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Best skiing in space is on Saturnian ice moon Enceladus

Perfect powder, shame about the low gravity

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Anyone who'd like to ski in space should head for Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, according to boffins who've discovered that the superfine ice crystals coating the moon's surface would be perfect powder for skiing.

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"Bulky space suits and extremely low gravity aside (the surface gravity there is only roughly 1 per cent that of Earth's), the particles themselves are only a fraction of a millimetre in size, roughly a micron or two across, even finer than talcum powder. This would make for the finest powder a skier could hope for," said Dr Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Texas, who presented the results at the EPSC-DPS* Joint Meeting 2011 in France today.

The sweet slopes have helped proved the theory that ice particles blown in flurries on the moon fall in a predictable pattern and that the heat source driving the plumes of ice has lasted millennia.

Instruments aboard the Cassini orbiter took global and high resolution mapping images of Enceladus, showing how and where this fallout of fine ice particles lands on the surface. The plumes aren't blowing around a whole pile of snowy stuff, in fact getting 100m deep requires a few tens of millions of years or so. This tells the boffins that the heat source driving the flurries is similarly long-lived; if it wasn't, the E-ring around Saturn formed by ejected particles from the plumes would dissipate in tens of thousands of years.

Apart from discovering its potential as a ski resort, the patterns of fallen snow on the moon will also help scientists understand the internal heating mechanism driving the plumes, and the insulating properties of the moon's surface. They'll get more evidence to help their study of the phenomenon in 2012 and 2015, when Cassini passes Enceladus again. ®

Bootnote

*Take a deep breath: The European Planetary Science Congress and the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society

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