After being in Saturn’s orbit for around 10 years, Cassini will soon sample the ocean on Enceladus. Enceladus is a moon of Saturn which has been puzzling astronomers for quite some time. Due to it’s icy structure which has an ocean underneath a lot of scientists are considering the possibility that simple life forms could exist on this moon.
Cassini was launched way back in 1997 and in 2004 it managed to enter the orbit of Saturn. Since that moment it has studied the huge planet, the rings that it has and its magnetic field. During the early stages of this mission Cassini made a remarkable discovery. It seems that Enceladus has a lot of geologic activity.
The moon apparently is one big ocean encased in ice which has hydrothermal activity as well. This could mean that the necessary ingredients needed to maintain life might be there. Further research could not be done at the time because Enceladus is also covered in a plume of ice, water vapor and certain molecules which are apparently organic.
This is why Cassini will be doing a dive soon through this plume in order to get as close as possible to Enceladus. Cassini has gone close to the surface before but this time it will try to go even closer.
The main focus of this flyby is not to find life but rather to give scientists more information on what this ocean that Enceladus has is actually like. They want to know how much hydrothermal activity is taking place inside of the moon. What they mean by this is how much chemistry is taking place there which has rock and hot water influencing each other.
But the biggest curiosity that astronomers have related to this mission is the icy plume that surrounds the moon itself. They are not clear yet on the exact composition of this plume so the main objective of this flyby is to get a closer look than before.
If this mission proves to be a success it might convince NASA that future missions like this one are needed, especially given the fact that actually getting a spacecraft next to a planet in the first place can take huge periods of time.
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