Saturn`s moon Enceladus `best ski resort` in space

Last Updated: Thursday, October 6, 2011 - 15:12

London: High resolution mapping of Saturn’s moon has confirmed that the unique little world is covered in ‘snowy’ slopes, which would be perfect for skiing, according to a lunar scientist.

The discovery was made by instruments aboard NASA’s Cassini orbiter spacecraft, a joint-space agency enterprise, which has been studying Saturn and its orbiters since 2004.

The discovery was made by instruments aboard NASA’s Cassini orbiter spacecraft, a joint-space agency enterprise, which has been studying Saturn and its orbiters since 2004.

Dr Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, has been colour mapping the surface of Enceladus, where the ‘weather’ has been the same for tens of thousands of years.

His high-resolution imaging has revealed that ice particles are pushed up into the atmosphere by an internal planetary heat source and fall back to the surface of the moon in a predictable pattern.

It also allowed him to measured the thickness of the moon’s surface, which revealed that Enceladus was blanketed in a thick layer of tiny ice particles.

“The discovery by instruments aboard the Cassini orbiter that there’s a currently active plume of icy dust and vapour from Enceladus has revolutionized planetary science,” the Daily Mail quoted Dr Schenk, as saying.

Work last year by a team from the University of Potsdam in Holland predicted that the heaviest accumulation of ‘snow’ would be along two longitudinal lines on opposite sides of the satellite.

Dr Schenk’s colour mapping of the ice moon confirmed blueish lines along those two longitude markers.

The images revealed unusually smooth land with ghost-like undulations on the surface, indicating that older craters and canyons have been buried in the icy dust.

They also revealed that the ‘snow’ on Enceladus is extremely fine - much smaller than earth’s average snowflake - and that means that it builds up at an extremely slow rate: less than a thousandth of a millimetre per year.

That means that the 350ft drift, which has been built up would have taken a few tens of millions of years.

The findings are important as they suggest that the thermal heat source required to drive the icy plumes into the atmosphere and maintain any liquid water beneath the surface would also have to be similarly long-lived.

ANI



First Published: Thursday, October 6, 2011 - 15:11

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