Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn was discovered in 1789 by William Herschel. At the time of the discovery, his telescope was the largest in the world. Enceladus was the name of a giant, one of the children of Uranus and Earth i.e. Sky and Earth.
Interesting Enceladus Facts
- Enceladus was discovered by William Herschel in 1789.
- Enceladus was given its name in 1847.
- It has been named after the giant, one of the children or Gaia and Uranus. The name comes from Greek mythology.
- All surface features on the moon have been named after characters and places from Arabian Nights.
- Enceladus has a diameter of 500 km.
- It is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn.
- It is 380,000 km away from Saturn.
- Enceladus takes 32.9 hours to complete a rotation about its own axis and revolve around Saturn once.
- It has a proper atmosphere.
- Flybys of the moon have been conducted by spacecraft like Cassini, Voyager 1, and Voyager 2.
- It has many surface features and may have tectonic activities.
- It is believed to have a well-differentiated internal structure.
- Enceladus may have the potential for some type of life.
- It has been featured in many elements of pop culture.
Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn was discovered in 1789 by William Herschel. At the time of the discovery, his telescope was the largest in the world.
It was first seen during a Saturnian Equinox. The term Saturnian Equinox means the period in which the sun appears to pass over the equator of the planet. At such a time, it is easier to observe the moons.
The name Enceladus was given by William Herschel’s son, John Herschel in 1847. The name comes from Greek mythology. Enceladus was the name of a giant, one of the children of Uranus and Earth i.e. Sky and Earth.
The name Saturn is known as Cronus in Greek mythology. Cronus was the leader of Titans. Hence, Enceladus was chosen as an apt name for the moon.
Interestingly, all the features on Enceladus are named after characters and locations from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, popularly known in English as Arabian Nights.
Enceladus is a light grey in appearance. Its surface has a variety of physical features that are visible when its image is viewed.
Enceladus is about 500 kilometers or 310 miles in diameter. It is the sixth-largest moon of the planet Saturn.
Its diameter is only about one-tenth of that of Titan which is Saturn’s largest moon.
Enceladus is also one of the most important inner satellites of Saturn, the others being Dione, Mimas, and Tethys.
Surface and Composition
In 1981 NASA’s spacecraft Voyager 2 provided detailed images of Saturn’s moon in Enceladus. A large number of creators, disruptions and fractures can be viewed in this image, more prominently in the polar regions.
Most of the other regions of the moon appear to be planes in nature or have a smaller number of craters.
The regions with a smaller number of craters are believed to be relatively younger than the ones with a lot of surface features.
The great number of fractures on the surface suggests that the surface of the moon has undergone a lot of deformation over time.
Several different types of tectonic features were also found on Enceladus by Voyager 2. Scientists believe that tectonic activity is the biggest mode of deformation on the moon.
Most of the surface of Enceladus is covered by fresh, clean ice making it the most reflective body in the entire solar system.
We have certain information about the internal structure of Enceladus, thanks to the spacecraft Cassini.
The density of the moon is comparatively higher than other mid-sized satellites of Saturn. This suggests a great presence of silicates and iron.
The moon is believed to have a well-differentiated internal structure that includes a crust, an icy mantle, and a rocky core. The presence of a subsurface ocean is also suggested.
Since Enceladus is geologically active, it is known to emit plumes of water vapor. These plumes get ionized thus filling the environment around Saturn. Enceladus can be said to be immersed in the magnetic field of Saturn.
Distance from Saturn
Enceladus is about 238,037 km From Saturn.
Enceladus is known to have a proper atmosphere. In fact, this atmosphere is much greater than most of the other moons of Saturn.
The atmosphere exists due to a phenomenon called periodic cryovolcanism. According to this phenomenon, gases such as water vapor escape the surface of the moon. This may have resulted in the formation of the atmosphere of Enceladus in the first place.
The Cassini spacecraft provided us with the evidence of a possible atmosphere on Enceladus in 2005.
Orbit and Rotation
Enceladus is tidally locked with its parent planet. This means that always keeps the same face towards the planet.
One day on Enceladus is equal to 32.9 hours on Earth. This means that it takes 32.9 hours to rotate about its own axis and complete one revolution around Saturn.
Enceladus is trapped in a phenomenon called orbital resonance. Orbital resonance is said to take place when two or more moons of a planet line up with the planet at regular intervals, resulting in gravitational interactions between them.
Exploration of Enceladus
Enceladus was only observed through telescopes before NASA’s Voyager space crafts. Enceladus was one of the top priorities of the Cassini mission after viewing the data provided by Voyager 1 and 2.
Cassini conducted several flybys of the moon some of which were as close as 1500 kilometres from the surface.
In March 2008, a flyby was conducted which resulted in the spacecraft going as close as 48 km from the surface of Enceladus.
No spacecraft has ever been able to land on the surface of the moon as yet. It has obviously also never been visited by human beings due to obvious reasons of extreme temperature and pressure conditions.
However, scientists are making continuous efforts to explore the moons of different planets in more detail.
Potential for Life
Observations provided by Cassini suggest that insulators may have an ocean with nutrients are organic molecules which makes Enceladus one of the bodies in the solar system where the chances of finding life are the highest. However,
No evidence of life has yet been found on Enceladus. This is due to the extreme temperature and pressure conditions. If any life does exist on the moon, it would be very different from that on the Earth.
The possibility of finding life forms elsewhere in the universe can never be ruled out.
Enceladus in Pop Culture
People continue to be fascinated by the planets in the solar system as well as their moons. Enceladus has been mentioned in several elements of pop culture such as films, television shows, books, video games, etc, either individually, or collectively as a part of the Saturnian moon system.
- 1789: Enceladus is discovered by William Herschel
- 1847: Enceladus is given its name
- 2008: Cassini flies by Enceladus from 48 km from the surface