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NASA finds astounding new images of Saturn's moon

Saturn's moon 'Enceladus'. File photo

WASHINGTON (PTI): Latest images of Saturn's icy moon 'Enceladus' showing jets of liquid and gas coming out from prominent fractures on the satellite's south polar region have left NASA scientists astounded.

"Enceladus continues to astound. With each Cassini flyby, we learn more about its extreme activity and what makes this strange moon tick," said Bob Pappalardo, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

The unique mosaic images -- taken about 14,000 kilometres from Enceladus by Cassini in November -- are expected to help yield the most detailed temperature map to date of one fracture.

The pictures -- from the imaging science subsystem and the composite infrared spectrometer teams -- include the best 3-D image ever obtained of a "tiger stripe", a fissure that sprays icy particles, water vapour and organic compounds, NASA said.

The images provide NASA the last look at the moon's south polar surface -- including an area with crudely circular tectonic patterns that were not well-mapped previously -- before the region goes into 15 years of darkness.

Over 30 individual jets of different sizes, including more than 20 that had not been seen before, can be seen in the image. At least one jet spouting prominently in previous photos now appears less powerful.

"This last flyby confirms what we suspected. The vigour of individual jets can vary with time, and many jets, large and small, erupt all along the tiger stripes," said Carolyn Porco from the Space Science Institute in Colombo.

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