As Cassini continues its exploration of Saturn, scientists have tons of information to sort through on the system. We’ve known that Enceladus contributes its ice particles to the sparse E-Ring of the system. We’ve seen from the early 90’s that a significant cloud of water surrounds the planet. We’ve long wondered about the main ring system: how old is it? where did it come from? how long will it last? In 2005, we discovered ice geysers at the Enceladus south pole. Now it all ties together.
NASA Scientist William Farrell:
Saturn’s A-ring and Enceladus are separated by 100,000 kilometers (62,000 miles), yet there’s a physical connection between the two. Prior to Cassini, it was believed that the two bodies were separate and distinct entities, but Cassini’s unique observations indicate that Enceladus is actually delivering a portion of its mass directly to the outer edge of the A-ring.
Once the particles escape the small moon, they are caught in Saturn’s magnetic field. As they whip north and south around the planet, they are eventually caught in the ring, adding to the material there.
It also answers the curious difference between Jupiter’s high radiation environment and Saturn’s lack of damaging particles. The rings soak up radiation in the Saturn environs. Jupiter’s ring is much, much smaller and more diffuse.
That image of Enceladus and its ice geysers above is from NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute