On this day in 1789 William Herschel discovered Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, Enceladus. The moon’s richly textured surface implies that Enceladus has been tectonically active in (geologically) recent times. Geyser-like jets of water vapor shoot into space from its south pole. Indirect evidence of a large subsurface ocean of water suggests that Enceladus could harbor extraterrestrial life.


In Greek mythology Enceladus was one of the Gigantes (Giants), who according to Hesiod, were the offspring of Gaia, born from the blood that fell when Uranus (Sky) and was castrated by their son Cronus. The Giants fought Zeus and the other Olympian gods in the Gigantomachy, their epic battle for control of the cosmos. A Giant named Enceladus, fighting Athena, is attested in art as early as an Attic Black-figure pot dating from the second quarter of the sixth century BC. In literature, references to the Giant occur as early as the plays of the fifth century BC Greek tragedian Euripides, where, for example, in Euripides’ Ion the chorus describes seeing on the late sixth century Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Athena “brandishing her gorgon shield against Enceladus”.

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