It's always a treat when one of NASA's orbiters gets close to a distant world. But we're especially excited about the Cassini orbiter's flyby of Enceladus.
Just weeks ago, scientists confirmed something they'd suspected for awhile: Enceladus, Saturn's sixth largest moon, has an ocean sloshing around inside of it.
And since scientists had already seen some evidence of the sort of geothermic activity that could help produce life with the help of water, a global ocean is a pretty exciting prospect.
We won't be deep-sea diving in Enceladus (or any of the other ocean-filled moons out there) anytime soon. But the flybys that Cassini will make this month are a good start.
These photos come from an Oct. 14 flyby, which took the spacecraft within 1,142 miles of the moon's surface. Already, we see stunning details. "The northern regions are crisscrossed by a spidery network of gossamer-thin cracks that slice through the craters," Paul Helfenstein, a member of the Cassini imaging team at Cornell University, said in a statement. "These thin cracks are ubiquitous on Enceladus, and now we see that they extend across the northern terrains as well."
Scientists are still analyzing the photos and data from the close encounter. On Oct. 28, we'll get even closer -- just 30 miles from the surface of the moon's south pole. Cassini is going to fly through the icy jets of water that shoot off of Enceladus's surface. By analyzing the chemistry of the water, scientists hope to determine just how habitable the moon's ocean might be.