Cassini to Go Geyser Diving?

Recent Image of Plumes at Enceladus There has been a plan for Cassini to make a close flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus early next year. The plan was that while Cassini is doing its usual orbiting of Saturn, that it would be tweaked to come within about 1000 km of the small icy moon and make observations. But that plan may be revised soon to include what would likely be the most dangerous maneuver Cassini has made since its orbit insertion and passing through the ring-plane.

The new plan is for Cassini to pass within 30 km of the surface of Enceladus… which is in itself an impressive move. What makes this even more daring is that the path should take the probe straight through one of the moon’s many geysers in its southern region. To survive what will likely be a barrage to tiny particles coming from these plumes, the cameras will be facing away from this activity as the body of Cassini itself (which is fortified with a protective shell) should take the brunt of the damage. After this most dangerous phase the cameras will capture details of the geysers and Enceladus itself as the probe moves safely away from the body. Additionally, this close plunge should also allow other instruments on Cassini to get a good scent of these materials as well and should be able to accurately describe what exactly is coming out of the geysers.

Should this plan be adopted, the event is scheduled for March of 2008.