NIAC: Exploring subsurface oceans – “Doing the hard thing”

Over fifty years ago John Kennedy articulated one of the most important reasons for exploring space:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills. . . “

NASA has a program which seeks out the things which are not easy, which are hard and which organize and measure the bet of our energies and skills: NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concept program (NIAC).

Earlier this month NIAC awarded a Phase I grants to several projects, giving each $100,000 and nine months to prove the feasibility of some aspect of the proposal.

One of the Phase I awardees was a project submitted by Dr. Masahiro Ono, a research technologist at JPL. Dr. Ono proposes exploring the oceans of Enceladus and Europa using a lander with three separate modules.
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NASA hoping for a stellar look at the plumes of Enceladus

This week it was possible to observe the light of a star in the Orion constellation though the plumes of
Enceladus and NASA positioned Cassini to do that.

The star is Epsilon Orionis, the middle star in the belt of Orion. Such an alignment is called a stellar occultation. Usually “occultation” refers to an event where one object blocks and observer’s view of a second object.

In this case, the observer’s view isn’t blocked, its filtered through the water and gas of Enceladus’ plumes. Cassini has made four stellar and one solar occultations of the plumes over the last ten years.

From a distance of 535,000 miles from Enceladus NASA will use Cassini’s Ultraviolet Image Spectrograph (UVIS) to record the filtered starlight. The star itself is 2,000 light years from Enceladus.
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Last Cassini Close Ups Of Enceladus: Looking for life in all the right places

On October 14th, 2015 Cassini flew within 1,142 miles of Saturn’s moon Enceladus to catch the first-ever close up picture of its north pole.

Two more Enceladus fly-bys are planned, one in a few weeks and one in mid-December. These will be the last visits to Enceladus for Cassini whose mission ends in 2017. Continue reading “Last Cassini Close Ups Of Enceladus: Looking for life in all the right places”