The jagged pole of Enceladus

Cassini made its closest flyby yet of Enceladus a few days ago, passing over the northern pole of the icy moon of Saturn.  Enceladus appears to have a liquid subsurface ocean, feeding enormous icy plumes, and its surface is active.  Here is the closest look at Enceladus so far, revealing deep, sharp, jagged canyons that cut across craters which must therefore be older than the cracks:


A little lower in latitude, Cassini also spotted this photogenic cluster of craters, also cut across by cracks and crevices.  Appropriately enough for a world made of water ice, it resembles a snowman:


It’s an intriguing place.  Notice also how soft the craters look in comparison to the crisp edges of the canyons — not only are the craters much older, but they betray a soft structure to this iced-over waterworld.

Cassini’s long mission is, alas, drawing closer to its grand finale.  This is the first of a final set of three Enceladus flybies, after which it will never visit this moon again.  It will focus on Titan after that, before making a suicide dive into the atmosphere of Saturn in 2017.


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