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Updated: Jun 25, 2022

Monday celebrates monumental space missions and magnificent discoveries at Enceladus.

It is 1980. The Voyager space probes are speeding across our solar system, performing their grand tour, proudly carrying golden records getting ready to greet our cousins of the great cosmos with sonic gifts and drawings.

Golden record cover Voyager's Golden Record Credit: NASA

A golden handshake from our precious Planet Earth. A world that would soon be a pale blue dot in the eyes of those wandering space probes as they sped by the Saturnian system.

Pale Blue Dot - Planet Earth viewed from the Saturnian system

It's a pity the Voyagers didn't have more time to stop by and check out Enceladus. You can't blame them since they were too busy taking advantage of the great planetary alignment that gave perfect gravity assist for their interstellar galactic gallop.

Voyager probes with the outer worlds Image: Don Davis

However, Voyager 1 did manage to snap one of Saturn's moons, Enceladus, and sent its findings back to scientists. This outer solar system postcard hinted that something interesting might be taking place on this moon.

And it was this tiny world of Enceladus that was to be part of a monumental story three decades later when NASA would build one of the largest and most complex spacecraft.

The legendary Cassini Mission was born and was a collaborative effort between NASA and 16 European countries and was launched in 1997.

When the Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn seven years later, the magnetometer received a signal which prompted the team leader to fly to NASA/JPL to convince the group to re-consider their fly-bys to get a closer reading of this mysterious activity.

Unanimously the group agreed and, using the words of Dr Linda Spilker, "marked the beginning of a great detective story." But it would only be years after this initial event and careful piecing together collective data that would lead them to a career-defining moment.

The discovery of rows and rows of gigantic geysers emanating water vapour from the moon's south pole, climbing tens of thousands of km into the sky. Some mists trail so high that they form Saturn's E-ring, solving another mystery from that mission.

Geysers on Earth are breathtaking, but nothing could compare to witnessing these rows of misty towering fountains with Saturn suspended in the backdrop accompanying this dreamy scene, as though a postcard to us all, with love, from the cosmos.

II Movement ENCEL▲DUS- Excerpt

Image credits: Ron Miller

3D animation art: Ed Bell Compositing: Paul Myer Hopkins

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