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See haunting mists shoot from Saturn's geyser moon Enceladus

NASA's Cassini spacecraft recently took a dip into the moon's icy plume. Now, the first dramatic photos are in.

Enceladus hovers above Saturn's rings on approach.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

It wasn't a hot summer day, but NASA took a pass through a planetary sprinkler of sorts anyway. The space agency on Friday released the first dramatic photos of the Cassini spacecraft's extremely close pass by the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus, including a dip in its mysterious plume.

The craft on Wednesday screamed through the spray of water, ice and other materials shooting out of cracks in the moon's frozen surface. It passed within just 30 miles (48 kilometers) of Enceladus' surface at speeds over 19,000 miles (30,578 kilometers) per hour in order to collect samples of the strange spray.

Cassini has on-board instruments that sampled gases and particles as it flew through the geyser. Researchers on Earth will comb through the data over the next several weeks in hopes of finding insights into what is happening on and inside of Enceladus.


An unprocessed view of plumes shooting out of Enceladus south pole as Cassini approached Wednesday.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The moon is believed to harbor a global ocean beneath its icy shell. Scientists also think that there may be hydrothermal activity on the ocean floor that keeps it heated and perhaps even warm enough to support life.

"Cassini's stunning images are providing us a quick look at Enceladus from this ultra-close flyby," said Linda Spilker, Cassini's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a release. "But some of the most exciting science is yet to come."

Cassini launched in 1997 and has been wandering around the Saturnian system's many rings and moons for well over a decade.

See more of the latest images from this week's daring dive in the gallery below.