NASA has unveiled new images of Enceladus captured by the Cassini spacecraft during its Oct. 28 flyby that took the orbital probe around 30 miles above the surface of Saturn's geyser-filled moon.
The latest mission had Cassini dive into plume located at Enceladus' south polar region, which experts at the American space agency believe could hold evidence to prove the existence of a subterranean ocean deep within the moon's icy crust.
NASA scientists have long theorized that the global ocean together with hydrothermal activity said to occur from within Enceladus' suggest that Saturn's moon has the ability to sustain simple life.
"Cassini's stunning images are providing us a quick look at Enceladus from this ultra-close flyby, but some of the most exciting science is yet to come," Linda Spilker, a project scientist for the Cassini mission, said.
Spilker added that the Cassini spacecraft is still sending valuable data from Enceladus back to ground controllers on Earth.
As part of its ongoing mission to collect data from the Saturn's moon, the Cassini spacecraft measure the levels of molecular hydrogen found in Enceladus' plume. Molecular hydrogen, which is considered to be the lightest type molecule to be found in the universe, consists of two atoms of hydrogen that are stuck together.
By measuring the molecular hydrogen content in the plume, scientists can determine how much hydrothermal activity can be found on Enceladus, which would in turn provide them with data on the potential of the moon's ocean to sustain simple forms of life.
Enceladus has long fascinated scientists on Earth since the discovery of continually erupting icy fountains on the Saturn's moon around a decade ago. They believe the location of these fountains make them a suitable spot for human habitation in the solar system.
The Cassini spacecraft is set to make its final pass of Enceladus by the end of the year, approaching the moon at an altitude of about 3,106 miles. This last mission is designed to measure the amount of heat coming from Enceladus' interior.
NASA's Cassini mission was launched in 1997 and reached the system of Saturn back in 2004. The orbital probe has since conducted surveys of the gas giant Saturn itself as well as its moons.
The scientific mission will reach its end in 2017, when the spacecraft is expected to make a final dive into the atmosphere of Saturn.