Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Threading a Needle

One of the weirder critters orbiting Saturn is Enceladus, a moon with huge ice-geysers spewing from its south pole. No one knows exactly what's up with those geysers, though the leading theory seems to be internal heating due to the stresses put on the moon by Saturn's gravity. Predictably, the Babe in the Universe believes it is a good place to look for a black hole. Who knows, she may be right; she's much smarter than I am.

At any rate, NASA pulled off a seriously cool trick earlier this week, by flying the Cassini probe straight into an ice-geyser, skimming just 30 miles above the surface, while going 32,000 miles an hour. It must have been cool to see (and since water implies life, maybe it was seen). I read that some sensors shut down at a crucial moment, leaving a big hole in the data, but Cassini is gonna do nine more fly-bys, so the mission is hardly a failure.

The coolest thing about Enceladus is that it is responsible for its own ring. The astounding picture below actually shows the geyser dumping ice and water vapor into Saturn's E ring. That shot just amazes me (click it to enlarge it). Apparently they got the image by flying Cassini into a spot where the Sun was blocked by Saturn, but light was still shining on the ice crystals as they fell into orbit.

I don't have any fancy-pants literary metaphor to hang onto the ice-geysers, or the Cassini fly-by, or Enceladus. I suppose I could come up with something, but it would pale when compared to the reality of the whole thing. So I'll leave it alone. You can check out the raw images from Cassini here.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

Hey, I dig it. No need to sugar coat.

Victoria Gothic said...

While there is no need to sugar coat, some pretty amazing writing comes from people looking into the sky. I love the night sky; its quite a bit more enjoyable than looking at the sun. But the stars are even better from the forest, peering through the trees over a moonlight lake.

Irrelephant said...

Jeebus Blog, I can barely take a cohesive photograph of a train sitting ten feet in front of me, and these guys are taking the most startling, incredible photographs of heavenly bodies while sitting in an air-conditioned office some hundred thousand miles away.

I hate scientists. *lol*

Mona Buonanotte said...

Mmmm...pretty! Like I can reach out and touch it!

Jo said...

So pretty and fascinating! It amazes me enough water is being released to create a ring. I'm like a mini-moon spewing hot air...but so far no rings.

Clowncar said...

Yeah, E, it's pretty digable. Sugar-coating would just dilute the effect.

The sky does inspire a lot of good writing, Vic (lie your description of the stars peering through the limbs of the trees). I think my favorite descriptions of the night sky are Cormac McCarthy's.

Irr, they are dong some amazing things out there. There's a bunch of black and white photos Cassini took of Saturn's rings (black and white to cut down on the amount of data to upload, but I swear it seems like an artistic choice). I'll post them one of these days.

They are pretty, Mona. And the amount of detail in that shot gives me goosebumps - like it's right in front of you.

Jo, you're right, it doesn't seem like there would be enough water inside one little moon to give give birth to a ring of that size. But the ring is incredibly thin, which might help explain it.