Dark Side Of Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

August 24, 2015 – Enceladus looks as though it is half lit by sunlight in this view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, but looks can be deceiving. The area on the right, where surface features can be made out, are actually illuminated by light reflected off of Saturn. A sliver of surface illuminated by direct sunlight is visible on the left.

Images like this one are designed to capture the extended plume of icy material spraying from the moon’s south polar region. Such images need to be taken with Cassini looking toward the icy moon’s night side, since the small particles in the plume are most easily seen when backlit by the sun.

The discovery of jets spewing water vapor and ice was first detected by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005. Since then, scientists have debated the origin of the water feeding the jets. A leading hypothesis is that these plumes originate from a deep underground sea, which might harbor life.

This view looks toward the leading hemisphere of Enceladus. North on Enceladus is up. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on May 10, 2015.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 226,000 miles (364,000 kilometers) from Enceladus and at a Sun-Enceladus-spacecraft, or phase angle of 152 degrees. Image scale is 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers) per pixel.

The Cassini Solstice Mission is a joint United States and European endeavor. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team consists of scientists from the US, England, France, and Germany. The imaging operations center and team lead, Dr. Carolyn Porco, are based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.