31Oct2015

Cassini Plunges Through Saturn Moon Enceladus’ Icy Spray

Nasa has confirmed that its Cassini spacecraft has successfully completed its closest ever dive through the icy atmosphere of Enceladus

NASA’s unmanned Cassini spacecraft has survived its closest-ever dive through the icy spray coming from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The probe skimmed 49 kilometres above the moon’s southern polar region.

It started sampling and collecting data on the spray that is believed to emanate from a subterranean ocean. While the spacecraft is not equipped to detect life, scientists said they hoped the pass would give them a better understanding of what was contained in the icy spray, how much there was, and whether conditions might be hospitable to life.

The first images were expected in the next two days, NASA said. “Mission controllers established two-way communication with the spacecraft this afternoon and expect it to begin transmitting data from the encounter this evening,” NASA said in a statement.

NASA illustration depicts the interior of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The tiny moon orbiting the sixth planet from the sun stunned scientists when they discovered it had an icy plume in 2005. After years of observations, NASA announced earlier this year that Enceladus definitely had a subterranean ocean, widening the search for alien life in our solar system.

The $US3.26 billion mission was a joint project by the US space agency, European space agency and Italian space agency.Cassini was the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, and has been circling the planet since 2004.  Adapted: ABC News

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