Skiers, get your poles ready: Saturn's moon Enceladus appears to be cloaked in drifts of powdery snow around 330 feet (100 meters) thick, scientists announced this week.
The researchers think superfine snowflakes are blasted out of geyser-like jets, which emanate from long fissures called tiger stripes on the moon's southern hemisphere. Some of the snow from these plumes falls back to the moon's surface, coating older fractures and craters in a slow process of accumulation.
"The particles are only a fraction of a millimeter in size ... even finer than talcum powder," study leader Paul Schenk, a planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, said in a statement. "This would make for the finest powder a skier could hope for."
(Related pictures: "New Geysers Seen on Saturn Moon" .)
The finding is based on new high-resolution pictures of Enceladus from NASA's Cassini orbiter, as well as global maps of color patterns that help reveal the ages of surface features. Above, an artist's rendering shows an active tiger stripe, including bluish regions that indicate freshly exposed water ice.
—Richard A. Lovett