Infrared eyes on the Enceladus: signs of fresh snow in the Northern Hemisphere

The scientists used data collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft over the course of 13 years to create detailed images of the icy moon and reveal geological activity.

The new composite images created from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft are the most detailed global infrared views ever produced by Saturn’s moon Enceladus. And the data used to construct those images provide strong evidence that the moon’s northern hemisphere has been revived with ice from its interior.

Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) collected light reflecting Saturn, its rings, and its ten major icy moons – light that is visible to humans as well as infrared light. VIMS then separated light into its various wavelengths, informing scientists more about the makeup of the material reflecting it.

The VIMS data, combined with detailed images captured by Cassini’s imaging science subsystem, were used to create the new global spectral map of Enceladus.

Cassini scientists discovered in 2005 that Enceladus – who looks like a highly reflective, shiny white snowball to the naked eye – extracts huge amounts of vapor from an icy pit and an ocean that lies beneath the icy crust. The new spectral map shows that infrared signals are clearly associated with the geological activity that readily appears at the South Pole. This is why the so-called “tiger striped” gash from the inner ocean explodes ice and vapor.

Infrared images of Enceladus were used to create this interactive 3D globe. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona / LPG / CNRS / Nantes University / Institute of Space Sciences

But some similar infrared features also appear in the Northern Hemisphere. This not only tells scientists that the northern region is covered with fresh snow, but that the same kind of geological activity – a resurgence of the landscape – occurred in both hemispheres. The resurgence in the north may be due to more gradual movement of ice through icy jets or fractures in the crust, from the subsurface ocean to the surface.

“It turns out that the surface of the South Pole is young, which is not surprising because we knew about the jets that explode icy material there,” scientist and co-founder of the University of Nantes, France. Author Gabriel Toby said. Of new research published in Icarus.

“Now, thanks to these infrared eyes, you can go back in time and say that a large area in the Northern Hemisphere also appears young and probably was not active much earlier in the geologic timeline.”

Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Cassini was an orbiter who had observed Saturn for more than 13 years before exhausting its fuel supply. The mission took part in the planet’s atmosphere in September 2017 to protect the Enceladus, which has the potential to hold conditions suitable for life, which are likely to warm the ocean and hydrothermal like those on Earth’s ocean floor Is churned by the vent.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini Orbiter.

More information about Cassini can be found here:

News media contact

Gretchen McCartney
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
[email protected]

Gray Hatluloma / Alana Johnson
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0668 / 202-358-1501
[email protected] / [email protected]


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