Cassini returns to the plumes [on Enceladus]

It’s been easier to get a close-up view of Saturn’s moons than the Perseids this year. But then there is a telescope, of sorts, orbiting that particular gas giant. The Cassini-Huygens mission has already landed a probe on Titan, and snapped the spectacular image of Saturn eclipsing Sol, as well as providing evidence that Titan has liquid ethane on its surface. The Huygens probe took pictures too. But yesterday Cassini swept past Enceladus for a second time. Skimming through jets of icy water vapor and organic chemicals just 30 miles above the surface of the moon at a speed of 17.7 kilometers per second (40,000 miles per hour) relative to Enceladus, to send back more data and more images. There’s a fly-by update site and a blog too. Here’s a NASA/JPL animation of the first fly-by on March 12 this year.

And a quote from an earlier press release after that March fly-by

“Enceladus has got warmth, water and organic chemicals, some of the essential building blocks needed for life,” said Dennis Matson, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “We have quite a recipe for life on our hands, but we have yet to find the final ingredient, liquid water, but Enceladus is only whetting our appetites for more.”

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