Cassini Discovers Atmosphere Around Enceladus

As if Titan was not exciting enough, the Cassini space probe recently detected an atmosphere around a second Saturnian moon, this time Enceladus. Cassini did not spot the atmosphere directly but discovered that Saturn’s magnetic field lines are being bent in the vicinity of Enceladus. This indicates diversion of the field by an atmosphere.

Because the moon is too tiny (according to NASA it would fit inside the state of Arizona) to hold an atmosphere for long, the atmosphere must be dynamically sustained. Scientists believe that this discovery is related to current tectonic activity on the moon. Much of Enceladus’ surface is young and the snow white brightness of the planet also implies recent resurfacing. Theories include active ice volcanoes and geysers and/or plate tectonics that bring pristine materials from the moon’s interior to the surface. If confirmed, the Saturnian system may prove to be much more dynamic than previously conceived.

The background image is Enceladus in false-color to bring out some of the surface composition differences. The faded gray behind Enceladus is a portion of Saturn (giving a hint at just how massive the planet really is compared to a tiny fleck of dust like Enceladus). The foreground image is an artist’s concept of the atmosphere’s affect on Saturn’s magnetic field.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a fiction writer and poet, with his first published poem forthcoming later in 2017 from Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), his Micro.blog (@richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).