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Enceladus: Overview
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Enceladus as viewed from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
Enceladus as viewed from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

Enceladus is only 500 kilometers (310 miles) in diameter, but despite its petite size, it's one of the most scientifically compelling bodies in our solar system. It is quite similar in size to Mimas, but has a smoother, brighter surface. Enceladus reflects almost 100 percent of the sunlight that strikes it.

In 2005, Cassini's multiple instruments discovered that this icy outpost is gushing water vapor geysers out to a distance of three times the radius of Enceladus. The icy water particles are roughly one ten-thousandth of an inch, or about the width of a human hair. The particles and gas escape the surface at jet speed at approximately 400 meters per second (800 miles per hour). The eruptions appear to be continuous, refreshing the surface and generating an enormous halo of fine ice dust around Enceladus, which supplies material to one of Saturn's rings, the E-ring.

Several gases, including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, perhaps a little ammonia and either carbon monoxide or nitrogen gas make up the gaseous envelope of the plume.

Enceladus displays at least five different types of terrain. Parts of Enceladus shows craters no larger than 35 km in diameter. Other areas show regions with no craters, indicating major resurfacing events in the geologically recent past. There are fissures, plains, corrugated terrain, geysers that indicate that the interior of the moon may be liquid today, even though it should have frozen eons ago. It is possible Enceladus is heated by a tidal mechanism similar to Jupiter's moon Io.

Just the Facts
Orbit Size (semi-major axis):  147,909 miles
Mean Radius:  156.6 miles
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Last Updated: 3 Aug 2014