NASA Guppy Airplane



Only recently have space missions begun to solve this beguiling Solar System mystery--that a small number of distant moons have been successfully hiding, from the curious eyes of astronomers, life-sustaining liquid water beneath secretive shells of ice. However, it was little Enceladus that gave astronomers their greatest shock. Even though the existence of Enceladus has been known since it was discovered by William Herschel in 1789, its enchantingly weird character was not fully appreciated until this century. Indeed, until the Voyagers flew past it, little was known about the moon. However, Enceladus has always been considered one of the more interesting members of Saturn's abundantly moonstruck family, for a number of very good reasons. First of all, it is amazingly bright. The quantity of sunlight that an object in our Solar System reflects back is termed its albedo, and this is calculated primarily by the color of the object's ground coating. The albedo of the dazzling Enceladus is almost a mirror-like 100%. Basically, this means that the surface of the little moon is richly covered with ice crystals--and that these crystals are regularly and frequently replenished. When the Voyagers flew over Enceladus in the 1980s, they found that the object was indeed abundantly coated with glittering ice. It was also being constantly, frequently repaved. Immense basins and valleys were filled with pristine white, fresh snow. Craters were cut in half--one side of the crater remaining a visible cavity pockmarking the moon's surface, and the other side completely buried in the bright, white snow. Remarkably, Enceladus circles Saturn within its so-called E ring, which is the widest of the planet's numerous rings. Just behind the moon is a readily-observed bulge within that ring, that astronomers determined was the result of the sparkling emission emanating from icy volcanoes (cryovolcanoes) that follow Enceladus wherever it wanders around its parent planet. The cryovolanoes studding Enceladus are responsible for the frequent repaving of its surface. In 2008, Cassini confirmed that the cryovolanic stream was composed of ordinary water, laced with carbon dioxide, potassium salts, carbon monoxide, and a plethora of other organic materials. Tidal squeezing, caused by Saturn and the nearby sister moons Dione and Tethys, keep the interior of Enceladus pleasantly warm, and its water in a liquid state--thus allowing the cryovolcanoes to keep spewing out their watery eruptions. The most enticing mystery, of course, is determining exactly how much water Enceladus holds. Is there merely a lake-sized body of water, or a sea, or a global ocean? The more water there is, the more it will circulate and churn--and the more Enceladus quivers and shakes, the more likely it is that it can brew up a bit of life. When President John F. Kennedy stated in 1960's that the US will go to the moon in less than a decade, most people were extremely skeptical. The reason for this stemmed from the fact that USSR had shown more accomplishments in the space race after the launch of Sputnik, which was the world's first satellite. Naturally, the skepticism was unfounded, since the US put all of its efforts in to the Moon program as billions of dollars were put in to it. The development of the Saturn rocket as well as the development of the Apollo lunar module took less than a decade, since the whole heart and soul of the American public was put into the Lunar program. Even the various tragedies such as the loss of Astronauts in the Apollo fire tragedy didn't deter the public. As a result, 1969 was an important year in the human history as mankind stepped into Lunar soil for the first time. Sadly, the program was discontinued and since the 1970's, no man has even stepped into the Lunar soil ever again.