Moon Exploration Timeline



Dr. Porco believes that the icy moon, with its underground liquid sea of water, organics, as well as an energy source, may potentially host life similar to that found in analogous environments on Earth. The March 2012 images of Cassini's "tiger stripes" revealed that these cracks widen and narrow, as was suspected from pictures taken previously. The fissures also change over time more frequently than was originally thought. The two opposite sides of the fissures move laterally relative to one another. This is analogous to the way two banks of the San Andreas Fault can move forward and back, as well as in opposite directions. The greatest slipping and sliding happens when Enceladus is closest to Saturn--as scientists expected. This important measurement was made using Cassini's INMS instrument, which detects gases with the goal of determining their composition. INMS was designed to sample the upper atmosphere of Saturn's large, smoggy moon Titan. However, after Cassini's surprising discovery of a tall plume if icy spray erupting from cracks on Enceladus in 2005, planetary scientists turned its detectors to that small moon. But small moons like Methone are usually geologically inactive and bereft of an atmosphere. Therefore, they are usually unable to smooth away the scars. Dr. Peter Thomas of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, explained it this way in the May 17, 2013 New Scientist: "When we look at objects less than 200 kilometers in radius, they are all like potatoes. They have lumps, grooves, craters." This makes Methone's smooth surface a mystery. Dr. Thomas is a Cassini team member.