The Cassini spacecraft’s two flybys of the icy moon Enceladus have revealed that the moon has a significant atmosphere. Scientists using Cassinis magnetometer instrument for their studies, say the source may be due to volcanism, geysers, or gases escaping from the surface or its interior.
When the Cassini had its first encounter with Enceladus on 17th February 2005 at an altitude of 1,167 kilometres (725 miles), the magnetometer instrument saw a striking signature in the magnetic field. On 9th March 2005 Cassini approached to within 500 km (310 miles) of Enceladus’ surface and obtained additional evidence.
The observations showed a bending of the magnetic field with the magnetospheric plasma being slowed and deflected by the moon. In addition magnetic field oscillations were observed. These are caused when electrically charged (or ionised) molecules interact with the magnetic field by spiralling around the field line. This interaction creates characteristic oscillations in the magnetic field at frequencies that can be used to identify the molecule. The observations from the Enceladus flybys are believed to be due to ionised water vapour.
Gill Ormrod | alfa
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