Help Shape the Future of Space Exploration

Join The Planetary Society Now  arrow.png

Join our eNewsletter for updates & action alerts

    Please leave this field empty

Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Cassini Finds Enceladus Tastes Like a Comet

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

26-03-2008 18:22 CDT


After missing most of today's press conference on Enceladus because NASA chose to hide it from public view on NASA's media channel -- which I can only reach on the Internet, not through the TV with digital video recorder that I was staring at this morning, waiting patiently for the news on Enceladus -- I did manage to catch up by phone with John Spencer and Hunter Waite, who were kind enough to take the time with me to explain the stuff I should heard during their prepared remarks earlier. Hunter suggested I talk with David Young too. All of this is now collected into a lengthy article on Cassini's March 12 Enceladus encounter.

The main punch line seems to be that there is a surprising quantity of organic compounds coming out of Enceladus. This pile of organics make its composition comet-like, and, to Hunter at least, suggests that there could be comets in Enceladus' ancestry, an idea that I find utterly baffling but which I dutifully reported.

While researching this article I came across a blog entry written by John Spencer on his analysis of the results, which is well worth a read. An excerpt:

The days after the Wednesday March 12th Enceladus flyby were a blur of frenzied activity for me as I worked to find the goodies in the tens of megabytes of data that Cassini's Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument had gathered during the flyby. My first peek at the uncalibrated data the next day, on Thursday afternoon, was already thrilling - the glow of the tiger stripes was visible not just at the usual 9 - 16 micron wavelength range where we'd seen them before, but at wavelengths as short as 7 microns. Shorter wavelengths mean hotter temperatures (in the same way that white-hot is hotter than red-hot), so it looked like the fractures might be warmer than we had thought. By the time I got all the files I needed for the full analysis, from CIRS's home at the Goddard Spaceflight Center, it was time for dinner. Precious ones and zeros that had been flying through the Saturn system onboard Cassini 24 hours earlier, and squirted overnight across the solar system at the speed of light, made the final leg of their journey to analysis by bicycle, as I cycled home with my laptop.

See other posts from March 2008


Or read more blog entries about:


Leave a Comment:

You must be logged in to submit a comment. Log in now.
Facebook Twitter Email RSS AddThis

Blog Search

Planetary Defense

An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.


Featured Images

LightSail 2 and Prox-1
Bill Nye at LightSail 2 pre-ship review
LightSail 2 pre-ship review team photo
Swirling maelstrom
More Images

Featured Video

Class 9: Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune

Watch Now

Space in Images

Pretty pictures and
awe-inspiring science.

See More

Join The Planetary Society

Let’s explore the cosmos together!

Become a Member

Connect With Us

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more…
Continue the conversation with our online community!