According to astronomers in the EUROPLANET RI (Europlanet Research Infrastructure) project, which received EUR 6 million of funding under the “Research infrastructures” theme of the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) “Capacities” programme, the weather on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, has created conditions that would be just perfect for skiing.
European Commission, CORDIS News
Dr. Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas presented his team’s findings this month at the 2011 joint meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences and the European Planetary Science Congress in Nantes, France.
The surface temperatures on Enceladus hover around -300 deg F. Water from within the moon’s warmer interior erupts in a form of cryovolcanism spewing extremely fine ice particles high above the moons surface.
Enceladus has a diameter of only 314 miles (1/7th that of Earth’s moon.) Enceladus is not large enough to retain an atmosphere but it does have enough gravity to cause some of the the erupted ice crystals to fall back to the moon’s surface. “The particles themselves are only a fraction of a millimeter in size, roughly a micron or two across, even finer than talcum powder,” Says Dr. Shenk “This would make for the finest powder a skier could hope for.” That’s right, there’s snow on Saturn’s moon!
Fearing the French might get a head start on an expedition to ski this newly discovered powderstash, the Most Interesting Man in the World has decided to assemble a team of extraordinary athletes and explorers to embark on an odyssey, to go skiing, in space.
The project was on track until the Most Interesting Man in the World was unexpectedly dropped by his sponsor, Dos Equis. A spokesperson for the Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma Brewery commented on the release “honestly, he just wasn’t choosing to drink beer very often.” The spokesperson added “I don’t know why, but ever since the Mission Commander joined the team, the Most Interesting Man in the World has been drinking a lot more whiskey. “
Without the support of a beer sponsor, and with the inability to acquire a loan from SomeBig Bank, the Most Interesting Man in the World sought financial backing from the Sports Energy Drink industry to support the expedition.
- Title: Mission Commander
- Qualifications: Purported to be the best skier in the solar system, can also stick uphill ice
- Title: Mission Specialist
- Qualifications: Chuck Norris
- Title: Flight Engineer
- Qualifications: Inventor of The Hovercraft
Doug Stoup (Ice Axe Expeditions)
- Title: Technical Adviser / Expedition Team Coordinator
- Qualifications: Years of experience leading expeditions in extreme environments
When asked about his role on the team, Technical Adviser and Expedition Team Coordinator Doug Stoup had this to say about the project:
I am honored to be involved with an expedition to ski Enceladus. This is truly an ambitious project. Thanks to our newly acquired sponsor, the team and the funding are secure and have started the meticulous planning for an expedition of this magnitude.
Our team is planning a test expedition in the Arctic on Devon Island. We need to simulate a similar outer world experience to what we will be expecting on Enceladus. We will need to test our space suits and how well we can ski in the suits under conditions similar to those anticipated on Enceladus. The Gravity on Enceladus will be difficult to simulate but we are working on it. These are all questions we need to figure out before we attempt this project. We are hoping for some great conditions and the lines we will be skiing appear to be in the 2000-3000 m range. I am truly looking forward to training up north and seeing what the team has and we will ramp up for our impending expedition to Enceladus.
Enceladus does not receive much snowfall, only about a thousandth of a millimeter per Earth year. However, there are no warm seasons and the powder has never before been shredded by astronauts. This allows the snowpack to accumulate for eons. There is no atmosphere, so wind deposition does not create drifts, but some canyons have filled in with sluffing snow. In the canyons the snow may be as deep as 500 meters. In some other areas outside of the canyons the super fine powder has piled up as high as 100 meters (3,937 inches).
Gravity on the moon is only 1/100th of that on Earth, that combined with the absence of atmosphere and wind effect likely results in a very fluffy unconsolidated snowpack making it difficult for riders to remain on the surface. Snorkels will not likely be necessary as riders will be wearing spacesuits.
The Hostel environment of space presents a host of challenges for these pioneers to overcome. At first NASA was reluctant to offer technical assistance to the expedition. The conclusion of the shuttle program and ensuing budgetary constraints have left the organization struggling to fund their existing projects.
Fortunately the concept was picked up by Red Bull. The Energy Drink Company saw a great deal of marketing potential in the possibility of an Out of this World Ski and Snowboard Webisode Series and has agreed to finance the Ski Enceladus Project.
When asked what this mission might accomplish, Ski Enceladus Project Supervisor Songuy Enasuit replied “It’s just incredible what these athletes are doing today. I think this project is really going to progress the sport.”
The ski Encladus Project is slated to launch sometime in the Spring of 2014. The Cassini Spacecraft (the probe responsible for detecting snowfields on Enceladus) traveled for approximately 6 years and 9 months before reaching Saturn. The Ski Enceladus Team should arrive in Saturn’s orbit in just 3 years 11 months thanks to improvements in space propulsion technology (Red Bull Solar Sails LLC.) The team should be shredding space pow by 2018! We Can’t Wait!!! Bon Voyage intrepid spacebros!
More images of Encleladus can be found at nationalgeographic.com
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