In Ancient Greek mythology, Enceladus was one of the giants, an offspring of Gaia and Uranus. He and his kin fought an epic battle with Olympian gods for control of the cosmos.
Today this giant’s most widely known namesake is one of the 62 moons of our solar system’s fanciest planet. Enceladus is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, but even at this ranking it is rather small, only 500 kilometres in diameter. According to NASA, Enceladus is one of the most “scientifically compelling” bodies in our solar system. The bright sphere is covered in ice, making Enceladus highly reflective.
Observations from the Cassini spacecraft have been revealing extraordinary detail about this moon. Its fissured and cracked terrain, plumes of water vapour and ice spewing from the south pole, as well as gravity measurements all have indicated that beneath its 30 kilometre ice shell Enceladus harbours a large underground ocean of liquid water, which might be about 10 kilometres deep. An ocean like this might be a great environment for extraterrestrial life. Hence the scientific excitement.
To me Enceladus is a favourite solar system body, but not only because of its remarkable features. I just think it’s really, really beautiful.
Cassini has toured Saturn and its satellites for the past 10 years. It has sent over incredible images and curious data, and just last week NASA announced that the spacecraft has “essentially fulfilled one of its many mission objectives: producing global maps of Saturn’s six major icy moons.”
Even though Enceladus is my favourite, there are other excellent moons to browse in NASA’s new map gallery – and they were named after Gaia’s offspring, too.