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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.
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However, the astronomers will require more HST observations in order to obtain accurate measurements in order to determine if the moon's orbit is circular or elliptical. Preliminary estimates suggest that if the moon is in a circular orbit, it finishes a circle around Makemake in 12 days or longer.
A billion years ago, our Moon was closer to Earth than it is now. As a result, it appeared to be a much larger object in the sky. During that ancient era, if human beings had been around to witness such a sight, it would have been possible to see the entire Moon--not merely the one near side face that we see now. A billion years ago, it took our Moon only twenty days to orbit our planet, and Earth's own day was considerably shorter--only eighteen hours long. Stupendous, almost unimaginably enormous tides, that were more than a kilometer in height, would ebb and flow every few hours. However, things changed, as the lunar orbit around our primordial planet grew ever wider and wider. Annually, Earth's Moon moves about 1.6 inches farther out into space. Currently, the lunar rate of rotation, as well as the time it takes to circle our planet, are the same.
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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.
"This is good news for Ganymede. Its ocean is huge, with enormous pressures, so it was thought that dense ice had to form at the bottom of the ocean. When we added salts to our models, we came up with liquids dense enough to sink to the sea floor," Dr. Vance said in his May 1, 2014 statement.
The more recently imaged plume erupts to a height of 62 miles above Europa's surface, while the one seen in 2014 was estimated to rise almost half as high at 30 miles above its surface. Both erupting plumes are located in an unusually warm region of this icy small world. This relatively toasty area shows some strange features that appear to be cracks in the moon's shell of ice, that were first observed back in the late 1990s by NASA's Galileo spacecraft. Planetary scientists propose that, like Enceladus, this could be a sign of water erupting from a sloshing global ocean of liquid water, swirling around in the moon's interior, that is hidden beneath its crust of surface ice.