Saturn moon Enceladus may have tipped over, finds Cassini

Saturn's Icy, Oceanic Moon Enceladus May Have Tipped Away from Its Original Axis

Saturn's Icy, Oceanic Moon Enceladus May Have Tipped Away from Its Original Axis

In a rather surprising revelation, NASA has said that Saturn's moon Enceladus may have tipped over - a reorientation of moon's spin axis - in distant past due to collision with an asteroid.

Other authors of the research, which posted online April 30 and will officially publish July 1, 2017, "True Polar Wander of Enceladus From Topographic Data", are Cornell's Joseph Burns, the Irving Porter Church Professor of Engineering and professor of astronomy; Peter C. Thomas, visiting scientist; and Paul Helfenstein, senior research associate; and Krista M. Soderlund, University of Texas at Austin; Matthew M. Hedman, University of Idaho; and Paul M. Schenk, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston.

The researchers drew the conclusion that Saturn's moon may have tipped over by observing the geological activity in Enceladus' South Pole. The fractures in Enceladus' south polar region, now affectionately known as tiger stripes, were first discovered in 2005, when Cassini spotted colossal plumes of material extending tens of miles from the surface of the icy world.

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Researchers looking at Cassini's data noticed evidence that Enceladus' spin axis - that is, the line passing through its poles - has apparently reoriented from an older position by about 55 degrees. Tajeddine and colleagues speculate that an asteroid may have struck the region in the past when it was closer to the equator. This may have occurred as the scientists think that the geological activity in the particular area did not start internally. "In order to drive such a large reorientation of the moon, it's possible that an impact was behind the formation of this anomalous terrain".

The disruption and creation of the tiger stripes on southern pole have caused changes in the distribution of weight on Enceladus, making the moon's rotation unsteady and wobbly. "By the time the rotation settled down, the north-south axis would have reoriented to pass through different points on the surface - a mechanism researchers call 'true polar wander, '" the statement said.

The polar wander idea helps to explain why Enceladus' current north and south poles look quite different. It would also cover why the south pole has geysers when the north does not.

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The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency.

Cassini is now in its Grand Finale mission, which involved a series of dives through the rings of Saturn.

The Cassini spacecraft is in its final exploratory mission of Saturn before it's intentionally incinerated in the gaseous atmosphere this coming September.

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