Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Cassini's Enceladus Flyby
Details here). Cassini was supposed to have run out of fuel years ago, but its mission controllers have gotten so good at maneuvering the probe around Saturn's system of moons using gravitational tugs from various objects that they can send it almost anywhere in the system using just puffs of gas. So NASA decided to send Cassini on a deep dive to Enceladus, passing within 30 miles (49 km) of the surface at the south pole where jets of gas most regularly erupt. Flyby was October 28, and NASA is starting to post processed images from the encounter. That's the south polar plumes above, photographed during this approach.
Apparently it will take a few weeks for the data to be analyzed, and Cassini's web page warns everyone not to expect too much from a machine designed to do other things. But it's good to know that we don't have to wait a decade for our first readings on the chemistry of these hidden oceans.