The Mysterious Dusty Plasma Plumes of Saturn’s Moon Enceladus


Dramatic plumes near the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The Cassini-Huygens mission uncovered some strange phenomena on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Located far from Sol and an unlikely candidate to find liquid water, scientists found that it actually shoots plumes of water into space.

The plumes are unique in the Solar System and astronomers are still researching the many mysteries they hold. The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft is currently in orbit around Saturn and new findings suggest that the plumes are a source of a complex form of plasma around Saturn.


Plasma is the most common form of matter in the universe, and it’s what stars are made of. The superheated gas that has partially ionized particles was discovered around Saturn, but as dusty plasma that has nano-scale particles suspended in it, producing a behavior that is different from ordinary plasmas.

Enceladus’ plumes, the water that has been ejected, are apparently forming the dusty plasma when they hit Saturn’s magnetic field. The research was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Space Physics.


Astrophysicists are eager to study dusty plasma, as it’s rarely seen in the vastness of space. The temperature of the dust in the plasma might be significantly different from the one of its environment.


Reference: “Dusty plasma in the vicinity of Enceladus” by M. W. Morooka, J.-E. Wahlund, A. I. Eriksson, W. M. Farrell, D. A. Gurnett, W. S. Kurth, A. M. Persoon, M. Shafiq, M. André and M. K. G. Holmberg, 20 December 2011, Journal of Geophysical Research Space Physics.
DOI: 10.1029/2011JA017038

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