Enceladus Facts for Kids
William Herschel's son John used Greek mythology to name Saturn's moons in 1847.
At the beginning of time Gaea, the Earth goddess, and Ouranos, the sky god, ruled. Enceladus was one of their offspring. In the war between the old gods and the gods of Olympus, the Giant Enceladus fought the goddess Athena. When he chased her, she threw the island of Sicily at him, crushing him under it. When he tried to move, it caused earthquakes. When the volcano Etna erupted, people called it the breath of Enceladus.
Although Enceladus is named after a Giant, it's not very big.
Enceladus is 500 km (300 miles) across. Our Moon is seven times bigger than that.
The force of gravity on Enceladus is weak.
It you were on Enceladus you'd weigh almost nothing. Someone weighing 45 kg (100 lbs) on Earth would weigh half a kilogram (just over a pound) on Enceladus. It could be fun. You'd probably have to learn to bounce as you moved around. Our Moon's gravity is stronger than Enceladus's, but Apollo astronauts had to have a special way of walking.
Enceladus is extremely cold.
Saturn is about nine times farther from the Sun that we are, so it's cold out there. And Enceladus is the coldest of Saturn's moons because of its bright surface. Our Moon has a dark gray surface that only reflects about ten percent of the sunlight that hits it. Yet think how bright it seems at night. Enceladus has a brilliant white surface that's brighter than fresh snow, and it reflects almost all of the sunlight that hits it. The temperature on Enceladus is around -198°C (-324 °F). The coldest temperature ever measured on Earth was −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F) in Antarctica.
A day or a month on Enceladus is 33 hours long.
Like our own Moon, Enceladus turns once on its axis while it orbits Saturn once. This means that the same side of the moon always faces Saturn. Enceladus is closer to Saturn than the Moon is to Earth, and Saturn's gravity is slightly stronger.
Although Enceladus is cold on the surface, it's warm enough inside to have a liquid ocean under the ice.
This heating is probably caused by the gravitational pull of a neighboring moon.
Enceladus has different types of terrain.
Terrain is an area of land and its natural features. A heavenly body that doesn't have a protective atmosphere gets craters from meteorite hits. This is why the Moon and Mercury have cratered terrains. Enceladus has some cratered terrain, but it also has smooth terrain. The smooth surface must be new because the old craters are now covered over.
Enceladus is an active body.
In an ancient myth, the erupting volcano was the breath of Enceladus. It turns out that Enceladus the moon has volcanoes and also geysers. This sounds strange, because Enceladus is so cold. How could it be erupting molten rock or shooting steam from a hole in the ground? The answer is cryovolcanoes and cryogeysers. Cryo means extremely cold. Enceladus's geysers shoot out a combination of water vapor, ammonia, carbon dioxide nitrogen, hydrocarbons and microscopic ice particles. Cryovolcanic eruptions could create the moon's smooth surface. Enceladus is a body that's changing – we say that it is active.
Many scientists think that Enceladus is a good place to look for microscopic life.
The Cassini spacecraft that's studying Saturn has taken samples of material from Enceladus's erupting geysers. They contain small amounts of organic molecules. These aren't alive, but they are substances needed for life as we know it. The great ocean of Enceladus contains these molecules, has energy that keeps it liquid, and, of course, water. These are the three main things scientists look for in their search for life.
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