Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus is quite possibly the most intriguing place in the entire solar system. This weird little world was once thought to be nothing but an unchanging ball of ice. That was until the robotic spacecraft Cassini discovered giant jets of water ice continually erupting from the moon’s south pole. Saturn explorers now believe that hidden beneath the airless, icy surface there may be a vast underground ocean.
Today, Cassini buzzed by Enceladus in its lowest pass yet over the south polar region. It flew right through the spray of icy particles and water vapor. The closest approach, at an altitude of about 46 miles (74 kilometers), occurred at 2:30 p.m. EDT on March 27.
Mission planners designed this flyby for Cassini’s ion and neutral mass spectrometer, which attempted to “taste” particles from the jets. NASA says that scientists will use the data to learn more about the composition, density and variability of the plume. In addition, the composite infrared spectrometer was looking for hot spots on Enceladus, and the imaging cameras were snapping pictures.
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UPDATE – March 28:
The images are starting to come down from Saturn: