Wrinkles and Blocks

The Cassini web site has a featured image of Enceladus posted today, a reulst from Friday’s 130-mile buzz above the surface. I find the raw images more exciting, including the shot above from 1900 miles away.

Then we have this from 600 miles up:

Dr Carolyn Porco, planetary scientist and imaging team leader, blogs in more detail and with some analysis of the images of the tiger-stripe regions.

(T)he region of the active tiger stripes is finely-fractured throughout and littered with icy blocks.

Our next flyby of Enceladus, as you may know, is not for another year. The sun will be disappearing from the south pole throughout that time, so that by next year we will have a far dimmer view of a shrinking portion of the south polar terrain. So, take your fill of this fabulous place now, because it will be a very, very long time before you see it like this again.

You can see some of the “fine fractures” in the image from farther out and the rough blockiness in the lower of the two images above.

Dr Porco is right. Seasonal changes will soon plunge these geyser holes into a fifteen-year night. The low sun angle is great for watching shadows to tease out elevation details. But in another several months, this whole region will be plunged into the equivalent of an Antarctic winter, only 29 1/2 times as long as what people on the Ice experience. And about 200 degrees colder.

Future explorers of the Enceladus south pole will probably need to time their visits to the long southern summers. I say probably, because by the time human beings reach Saturn, the challenge of staying warm in the outer solar system might not be helped so much by the feeble sunlight as by the energy source brought along.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be stumbling around in the dark Enceladus night, tripping over ice boulders and the like or dropping into a surprise chasm.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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