Spacecraft prepares for icy shower near Saturn
Spacecraft prepares for icy shower near Saturn This Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015 image provided by NASA shows Saturn's moon Enceladus, center, as the Cassini spacecraft prepared to make a close flyby of the icy moon. A portion of the planet's ring is at right. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)
Spacecraft prepares for icy shower near Saturn
Lexile: 910L

Assign to Google Classroom

The Cassini spacecraft is about to get an icy shower as it orbits Saturn.

On Wednesday, Cassini will storm through a jet of water vapor and frozen particles. The water vapor and frozen particles erupt from the south pole of Enceladus. Enceladus is one of Saturn's many moons. The spacecraft will zoom within 30 miles of the pole, providing the best sampling yet of its underground ocean.

Cassini will be traveling 19,000 mph. It should take just an instant to penetrate the plume.

A global liquid ocean is believed to exist beneath the frozen crust of 300-mile-wide Enceladus. Wednesday's dive will be the deepest one yet through the continuous plumes. This makes the enterprise a bit riskier than usual.

Cassini was launched in 1997. It is not equipped to detect life. But scientists hope Wednesday's flyby will provide clues as to the possibility of it.

Wednesday's feat is a "a very big step in a new era of exploring ocean worlds in our solar system." That's according to NASA program scientist Curt Niebur.

Other probable extraterrestrial ocean worlds: Saturn's largest moon, Titan; Jupiter's moons, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Others include possibly dwarf planets Pluto and Ceres.

"These are worlds with huge bodies of liquid water underneath their surfaces, bodies with great potential to provide oases for life throughout our solar system," Niebur said Monday. "It's a journey in understanding about what makes a world habitable and where we might find life and where we might one day live ourselves."

Researchers are eager to nail down the chemical makeup of Enceladus' plumes. They also hope to confirm whether the eruptions are tight columns or curtains of jets running along fractures in the south pole.

In particular, the spacecraft will be looking to identify hydrogen molecules in the plume. This would help quantify hydrothermal activity occurring on the ocean floor. That, in turn, would help characterize the potential for life in this slightly salty ocean.

More missions would be needed for confirmation of life. Life might range from microscopic algae to little fish, the scientists said.

The action unfolds late Wednesday morning Eastern Time; it will take several hours to confirm success and start returning the information.

Spilker expects it will take a week to get a quick look at the scientific data. It will take many more weeks for a proper analysis.

Close-up pictures of Enceladus should be ready much sooner. Cassini will snap pictures of Enceladus. Pictures will be taken before, during and after the close encounter. The images will be smeared because of Cassini's speed. But the team hopes to remove the blurs and have some dramatic shots by Thursday night or Friday. Saturnshine - akin to our moonshine - will provide the only lighting for the cameras.

This will be the 21st flyby of Enceladus by Cassini. "It's not our last, but arguably this one is going to be our most dramatic," said project manager Earl Maize.

Cassini has come closer to Enceladus. It skimmed 151/2 miles above the surface in 2008 but never dipped so low through a plume.

Scientists were tempted to fly even lower Wednesday, but did not want to waste fuel. Cassini's orbit around Saturn will not be disturbed by the plume penetration, they asserted. The U.S.-European spacecraft has two years of life remaining before it plunges into Saturn's atmosphere and vaporizes.

Source URL:

Filed Under:  
Assigned 134 times
What gives scientists hope that Cassini might detect signs of life?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • williamb-6-bar
    11/04/2015 - 09:20 p.m.

    Cassini holds hope in scientists because it has came close to Enceleadus before and there was so damage. We are trying to see if there is life on Saturn's moon. Cassini will take pictures of it when the storm happens. This will show scientists if Enceleadus can handle big storms. I think
    that there is a possibility of alien life on that moon.

  • hadensoly-
    11/05/2015 - 12:00 p.m.

    This is a pretty cool story about a space craft that orbits Saturn. On Wednesday the craft is going to go close to Saturn and its moons. Scientists hope it will find signs of life.

    CTQ Since there is a large ocean under the crust they hope there will be life.

  • kylemoly-
    11/05/2015 - 12:08 p.m.

    The Cassini will orbit Enceladus, one of Saturns moons, and will be taking pictures and providing info on its underground ocean. The Cassini will be traveling at 19,000 mph and will arrive at Enceladus on Wednesday. Scientists are hoping to find life in the ocean such as microscopic algae or small fish.

    CTQ answer: The underground ocean

  • johngoly-
    11/05/2015 - 12:11 p.m.

    This article is talking about how a space craft named Cassini will be diving closer than ever too Saturn's biggest moon. This moon has a under water ocean. The reason they can go closer than ever before and get knew footage is that it's south pole is erupting water. This will allow Cassini to look down in the hole the ocean has erupted from. NASA is hoping they will find sings of life.


    It will be the best pics of the under water ocean ever.

  • alexusroly-
    11/05/2015 - 12:17 p.m.

    This article is about a spacecraft. The space craft was created in 1997. Soon they will be going by one of Saturn's moons. This will cause it to get showered with water. However the spacecraft is not made to detect life. But they are hoping it will get some clues. They were wanting to fly lower. But the scientists don't want to waste fuel.

    CTQ: I think the part that gives scientists hope that the spacecraft Cassini might detect life is that there is water on the moon and possibly the planet.

  • rachaelvoly-
    11/05/2015 - 01:24 p.m.

    it is about spacecraft preparing for an icy shower near Saturn. Whats going on is this storm through a jet of water vapor and frozen particles. This storm takes place on the planet Saturn. This storm will happen on Wednesday. It is important because people who study the planets in our solar system need to know what is going on with the planets so that way they have information to explain. How this storm works is it will be going 19,000mph. In wind speed. So this storm will be pretty fast in wind speed.

  • jacobboly-3-
    11/05/2015 - 01:42 p.m.

    The space team is taking a risk but it might lead to a alien breakthrough. this might have a good use for us for future use.


    because if their is life on that moon we might be able to live there in the future.

  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    11/05/2015 - 09:05 p.m.

    I think this is cool because Cassini will get an opportunity to detect life in Enceladus even though it was not made to detect life. With Enceladus' south pole erupting, Cassini will get a chance to take a picture.
    What gives scientists hope that Cassini might detect signs of life?
    Answer: The fact that it will be able to take the best picture of Enceladus' ocean, it might be able to detect life.

  • nikolasm-day
    11/06/2015 - 11:51 a.m.

    The universe is full of crazy things, and this is one of them. Just imagine that you are flying through space and then all of a sudden you look out the window and see just little chunks of ice floating there. If that were me in that situation, I would be amazed. Space really has a lot of neat things to offer and like I said before, this is just one of them. It will interesting to see what space throws at us next, and after reading this, it truly can be anything.

  • spenserb-buc
    11/09/2015 - 10:01 a.m.

    Cassini was launched in 1997. It is not equipped to detect life. But scientists hope Wednesday's flyby will provide clues as to the possibility of it. They mean like plant life and bacteria right not people like life if so i don't think there would be any of that type of life.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment