August 12, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Cassini Survives Enceladus Geyser Plunge

The Cassini spacecraft has done it again – returned some of the most stunning outer planet images ever taken.  Zipping by at just 30 miles over the active surface of Enceladus, Cassini did a “skeet shoot” of high-res images achieving 7 meters per pixel in places – the highest resolution of any shot of a moon taken during a flyby.  The images can be viewed at JPL, NASA and Ciclops, website of the Imaging Team.
    It’s too early to interpret the bizarre texture of this active moon as revealed in the images, but certain things stand out.  There are no craters.  The terrain is criss-crossed by fractures, new ones overlying older ones.  Boulders as large as houses dot the hills.  And the “tiger stripes” – sites of active eruptions – have heaps of material lining their edges.  Press releases arrived on Thursday August 14: for the latest on the discoveries and what scientists are thinking about them, see the websites for Cassini and Ciclops.
    On the Enceladus Flyby Blog you can find links to animations of the event (see the Aug 7 and 11 entries), and other interesting facts about Enceladus and Cassini.

Catch the thrill of discovery.  Read some of the responses of space enthusiasts to these pictures at Unmanned Spaceflight, and learn more about them on the Planetary Society blog.  Pictures like this are hard to come by: it takes a spaceship costing billions of dollars, and years of flight and planning.  Soon we will have more to say about Enceladus.  For now, enjoy history in the making.

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