The Cassini space probe is scheduled to fly by a moon of Saturn named Enceladus in about five days on March 12. More and more interesting information has been provided by Cassini as it flies around Saturn, encountering her rings and many of her moons. As of 2007, 60 moons have been identified and of those 52 have been officially named. Some of Saturn’s moons are as small as 10km in diameter.

NASA photo

Some interesting items have been found regarding Saturn’s moons. Titan is the only moon in the solar system believed to have an atmosphere and Cassini recently discovered it to have more hydrocarbons than all of the oil and gas reserves on Earth. Now if we can just get a wellhead installed on Titan! Earlier in March, Cassini flew by Daphnis, a small moon only 4.3 miles across but big enough to cause tell-tale ripples in the otherwise smooth Saturn ring-plane. Daphnis appears to orbit in a gap in Saturn’s rings. Did it push all the objects in front of it to one side, out of its way? I find it fascinating that such small objects can have such gravitational influence on so much matter around it. And they call gravity the ‘weak force’. Recently, Rhea has been found to have evidence of rings around it, the second largest moon of Saturn. This is the first time rings may have been found around a moon.

Now comes Enceladus on March 12. Cassini will scoop up samples of water-ice particles and gas spewing out from the surface by geysers. This will be the final approach to this moon of the main part of Cassini’s four year mission. It will pass within 30 miles of the planetary satellite and race by at 9 miles per second. Enceladus is 505km (314 mi.) wide.

The results of Cassini’s mission just keep getting better and better. More flyby’s of Titan will occur on March 25, May 12 and May 28. During the period June through August, Saturn’s rings will be at high inclination. Cassini should get some good pictures of the B ring and unique views of Saturn itself due to Stellar Occultations during this time. Later in the year, more flyby’s of Enceladus and Titan are planned.