Shop Windows to the Universe

Earth Science Rocks! Select one of our four cool NESTA t-shirts from our online store, and express your love of Earth and space science!
This map shows the area around the South Pole of Enceladus, a medium-size, icy moon of Saturn. The map covers the South Pole and surroundings up to 65 South latitude. The huge "tiger stripe" cracks are prominent in this view, running from upper left to lower right. The images used to make this map were captured by the Cassini spacecraft. The area shown is about 220 km (137 miles) across.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of DLR and NASA/JPL/Cassini Imaging Team.

The South Pole of Enceladus

Enceladus is a medium-sized, icy moon of Saturn. The South Pole of Enceladus is one of the oddest places in the Solar System. Temperatures near the pole are far warmer than anywhere else on the moon, huge cracks criss-cross the region, and geysers spew ice crystals hundreds of kilometers into the sky.

Several huge gouges, averaging 130 km long by 2 km wide and 500 meters deep, run across the region of Enceladus's southern pole. These giant cracks have been nicknamed "tiger stripes". Scientists can tell, by counting meteorite craters, that this region around the South Pole is geologically younger than the rest of the moon's surface. They have also discovered that the South Pole is by far the warmest place on the moon, especially near the tiger stripes. This cannot be the case if Enceladus is heated by sunlight alone. The young surface, enormous "tiger stripe" cracks, and high temperatures all indicate that Enceladus (or at least the area around its South Pole) is geologically active.

The Cassini spacecraft discovered direct evidence of this geologic activity - it captured images of ice geysers erupting from the southern polar region of Enceladus! This moon of Saturn is one of only four bodies in our Solar System on which we have observed eruptions (the three others being Jupiter's volcanic moon Io, Neptune's moon Triton, and of course Earth). Scientists aren't quite sure yet how the ice geysers on Enceladus work, nor are they certain what supplies the heat to drive them. Perhaps there are subsurface reservoirs or aquifers of liquid water on Enceladus; this possibility piques the interest of astrobiologists. In any case, the ice geysers are an area of active research.

Scientists have spotted multiple plumes of ice from geysers, possibly emanating from more than one of the tiger stripe cracks. The ice crystals are flung hundreds of kilometers above Enceladus's surface; some even leave the moon altogether, contributing material to one of Saturn's rings. Ice that falls back to the moon's surface coats it with a bright layer akin to newfallen snow, making Enceladus the most reflective (highest albedo) body in the Solar System. The bright surface reflects away sunlight, keeping the moon cold; the average temperature on Enceladus is a chilly -200 C (-328 F).

Last modified January 20, 2009 by Randy Russell.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games section of our online store includes a climate change card game and the Traveling Nitrogen game!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Medium-sized Moons of Saturn

Saturn has // Call the moon count function defined in the document head print_moon_count('saturn'); moons. Many of those are tiny chunks of rock or ice only a few kilometers (miles) across. One of Saturn's...more

Cassini

The Cassini probe began its journey to Saturn on October 15, 1997. It flew by Earth in August, 1999, before heading towards the distant planet. Cassini passed Jupiter in 2000 and then burned towards its...more

Albedo

This picture shows a part of the Earth surface as seen from the International Space Station high above the Earth. A perspective like this reminds us that there are lots of different things that cover the...more

The Poles of Saturn and Its Moons

There's a lot of strange and interesting stuff going on at both the North and South Poles of Saturn. Features at the poles of two of Saturn's moons, Titan and Enceladus, have also grabbed the attention...more

How Titan Formed

In many respects Titan is similar to the other icy moons, but Titan is the only icy moon to have an atmosphere that can be compared to other planets'. It is natural to ask how is this possible since Titan...more

The Environment of Titan, can there be Life?

Titan's atmosphere is a lot like the Earth's, except that it is very cold, from -330 degrees to -290 degrees! Like the Earth, there is a lot of Nitrogen and other complex molecules. There also may be an...more

Pandora

Pandora is a small moon of Saturn. It was discovered by S. Collins and others in 1980 from photos taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. Pandora's name comes from Greek mythology. Pandora was the first woman,...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA