Curtain eruptions from Enceladus’ south-polar terrain

Published online:


Observations of the south pole of the Saturnian moon Enceladus revealed large rifts in the south-polar terrain, informally called ‘tiger stripes’, named Alexandria, Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus Sulci. These fractures have been shown to be the sources of the observed jets of water vapour and icy particles1,2,3,4 and to exhibit higher temperatures than the surrounding terrain5,6. Subsequent observations have focused on obtaining close-up imaging of this region to better characterize these emissions. Recent work7 examined those newer data sets and used triangulation of discrete jets3 to produce maps of jetting activity at various times. Here we show that much of the eruptive activity can be explained by broad, curtain-like eruptions. Optical illusions in the curtain eruptions resulting from a combination of viewing direction and local fracture geometry produce image features that were probably misinterpreted previously as discrete jets. We present maps of the total emission along the fractures, rather than just the jet-like component, for five times during an approximately one-year period in 2009 and 2010. An accurate picture of the style, timing and spatial distribution of the south-polar eruptions is crucial to evaluating theories for the mechanism controlling the eruptions.

  • Subscribe to Nature for full access:



Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.


  1. 1.

    et al. Cassini observes the active south pole of Enceladus. Science 311, 1393–1401 (2006)

  2. 2.

    et al. Enceladus’ water vapor plume. Science 311, 1422–1425 (2006)

  3. 3.

    & Association of the jets of Enceladus with the warmest regions on its south-polar fractures. Nature 449, 695–697 (2007)

  4. 4.

    et al. Water vapour jets inside the plume of gas leaving Enceladus. Nature 456, 477–479 (2008)

  5. 5.

    et al. Cassini encounters Enceladus: background and the discovery of a south polar hot spot. Science 311, 1401–1405 (2006)

  6. 6.

    , , & High heat flow from Enceladus’ south polar region measured using 10–600 cm−1 Cassini/CIRS data. J. Geophys. Res. 116, E03003 (2011)

  7. 7.

    , & How the geysers, tidal stresses, and thermal emission across the south polar terrain of Enceladus are related. Astron. J. 148, 45 (2014)

  8. 8.

    et al. Cassini imaging science: instrument characteristics and anticipated scientific investigations at Saturn. Space Sci. Rev. 115, 363–497 (2004)

  9. 9.

    et al. in Saturn from Cassini-Huygens (eds & ) 763–781 (Springer, 2009).

Download references


This work was funded by grant number NNX13AG45G of the Cassini Data Analysis and Participating Scientists Program. We thank M. Hedman, P. Thomas and C. Howett for conversations on this topic.

Author information


  1. Planetary Science Institute, 1700 East Fort Lowell Road, Suite 106, Tucson, Arizona 85719, USA

    • Joseph N. Spitale
  2. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA

    • Terry A. Hurford
  3. Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, 11100 Johns Hopkins Road, Laurel, Maryland 20723, USA

    • Alyssa R. Rhoden
  4. Rochester Institute of Technology, One Lomb Memorial Drive, Rochester, New York 14623, USA

    • Emily E. Berkson
  5. Film and Television Department, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA

    • Symeon S. Platts


  1. Search for Joseph N. Spitale in:

  2. Search for Terry A. Hurford in:

  3. Search for Alyssa R. Rhoden in:

  4. Search for Emily E. Berkson in:

  5. Search for Symeon S. Platts in:


J.N.S. devised the approach and wrote the majority of the text. T.A.H. and A.R.R. contributed substantially to the interpretation and to the text. E.E.B. and S.S.P. digitized many of the fractures and contributed to early efforts that led to the current approach.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joseph N. Spitale.

Extended data


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.