My favorite little moon. Cassini made a pass that traveled just 31 miles from the surface, and I know they’ve got to have fantastic new images - I just wish I could find them. I think I read they’ll make 6 more passes with the most daring attempt being just 15 miles above the surface going straight into the mouth of a geyser. For a comparison… the SR-71 blackbird flies at that same height over Earth and balloonits have ventured up even higher. In space terms, that’s close!
For anyone wondering what the big deal is about Enceladus:
I kind of thought that too until I took an upper-division university astromechanics class. We basically started from zero and proved many things only by looking at the light emitted by stars (things like distance, temperature, size, and composition). Previously I thought these things were “guesstimated” through hypotheses and best guesses and stochastic/statistical fiddling and so forth, but it turns out that even for the most distant stellar objects, the mathematics are rigorous and well understood, and don’t get into the potentially goofier areas like advanced physics such as singularities, imaginary numbers, etc (I should caveat that I classify loftier things like space-time and black holes as physics and cosmology more than astronomy).
It was at that point that I realized astronomy is as rigorous and well documented as other “hard” physical sciences like geology and chemistry and Newtonian physics. Seriously, I feel that we may as well have a lab in which we can directly analyze stars and planets because the science is that well founded.
However, I admit defeat in that krayzkrok has one again trumped all with crocodile biology. Dammit.
And to imagine that they had the trajectory of the probe set 11 years ago. That, IMHO, is damn impressive.
11 Years Ago, in a bar outside of Pasadena, CA
Drunken Man: You wanna make a bet? I bet you 500 bucks I can make a several ton vehicle pass through a plume of steam from a geyser more than a billion kilometers away! Oh, you don’t think I can do that, eh? Well, let’s up the ante! I’ll fly the bugger 52 kilometers away from the geyser! See you in 11 years, asshole!
Yeah, it’s pretty hard for anyone to conceptualize these sorts of distances, I think. And then, if you want to go a step further, you can consider that 3.5 billion kilometers is an insignificantly small distance compared to gulf between our solar system and the nearest star.