Speedskating on Enceladus

Another blog I read frequently, Last Girl on Earth, has a contest running now, here are the rules:

If you could go anywhere in the world, or beyond…
Where would you go, and why would you go there?

Here is my entry, its weird enough that I think speedskaters all over the world would be interested in joining me for this trip that would make my excursion earlier this year to Europe seem positively TAME by comparison.

I would travel to a small moon near the planet Saturn called Enceladus. Scientists have described it as a huge ball of smooth ice drifting through space. It is smooth because it has very active geysers that are constantly erupting and covering the surface with water. Think of it of it as a place with it’s own massive geothermal Zamboni.

These geysers blast from blue veins crisscrossing the Enceladus surface, and are nicknamed “cold faithfuls” by Scientists. They are so powerful that the icy particles they throw into space create one of Saturn’s Major rings, the “E” ring, actually.

Because of this, Enceladus rides within, and is the source of, one of Saturn’s rings. These geysers are strong enough to slowly erase impact craters from the surface, and create some stunningly beautiful landscape and frozen structures, the whole planet is covered in ice, as it has the highest light reflectivity in the solar system.

This photo is from the Cassini spacecraft. Cassini got so close, (within 109 miles) it had to rotate itself away from the planet at times, to shield its eyes from the icy debris in nearby space. Click on the photo to see a very pretty & larger version.

If one is thinking of a place to visit for scenery, I think it would be pretty hard to beat the view of Saturn & the rings from a thin atmosphere moon WITHIN one of the rings. The stars would be bright, the colors stunning, The frequent eruptions would be fun to watch (from a distance! water-ice volcanoes are technically known as Cryo-Volcanism). The sky would be filled with multicolored Saturn and other rings arcing past, and the sun bright enough to see things pretty well.

What would I do on Enceladus? Now this is where who I am plays nicely into this unique destination.

I would go for a nice long speedskate across the icy surface. On earth I am capable of briefly sustaining 34+ mph on my skates. According to Dutch speedskating scientists, those terrestrial velocities correspond to me fighting 84% air resistance and 16% frictional forces.

With the minimal atmosphere on Enceladus, and only 1/125 of earth’s gravity, I ought to be able to sprint along at 500+ mph, and easily tour along at 100+. My 28 inch vertical leap on earth would become a become a 280+ foot skyward arc, allowing me to see a great view anytime I wanted, or to leap the fissures, ripples, & craters on the surface with ease.

This would be a tour with a view, and with some extreme sports fun! Scientists say there are five distinct types of terrain on this moon: Fissures, plains, corrugated terrain and several other icy deformations. Some of the most enjoyable athletic moments in my life have been mountain biking the mammoth fossilized sand dunes in Moab, Utah. I think this could be similar, but within the sport that I was born to do.

This moon is only 310 miles around, so I think I could see a significant amount of it fairly quickly, and the Cassini spacecraft pictures of the surface show a playground that could provide years of fun. Ramps, bowls, berms, & gliding among ice walls like the podracer scenes of the first star wars movie.

Here is a black-and-white surface detail of one of the rougher areas, each pixel you see is roughly 37 feet of real life terrain (what magic we can do, that I HAVE this image to show)

Also because of the abundant presence of liquid water, there are likely subsurface oceans, and scientist have seen the chemical building blocks of life present in abundance here, so this particular moon is a terrific candidate for the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Maybe even the best in our solar system (many point to Jupiter’s moon Europa as another good choice).

Who knows, I might not be the only one skating along the surface, I could blend right in with local life forms, evolved to take advantage of this peculiar environment. The Enceladians could have a speedskating culture that could even rival the Netherlands!

One never knows.

Of course there are small technical problems, such as how to survive the extreme cold of –180 to –203 Celsius, and the lack of good breathable oxygen, and my skates might not glide as well on this extremely cold surface.

But I compete in a prototype of the racing skinsuit Nike spent over a million dollars to develop for the 2002 winter Olympic games. It’s a dreadfully uncomfortable thing to wear, but magically fast compared to normal lycra. Toss a few billion dollars more at the basic design, and I am sure it would be interplanetary worthy. Do a little more research into various steels & other exotic periodic table elements, and I am sure they would find the best bi-metal blade composite and blade dimentions for gliding across Enceladian ice.

As for oxygen, I am a sprinter, and I don’t breathe too well to begin with! Oxygen? schmOxygen!

In Greek mythology, Enceladus was a Titan who was defeated in battle by the God Athena, and buried under Mount Etna, when he tries to break free, his struggles are the source of earthquakes volcanic eruptions.

I think Enceladus might become someday, the top speedskating tourist destination of all time, and for the purpose of this contest, it is my daydream place to go.

Here are some weblinks to this amazing place:

The Cassini spaceprobe raw image diary of its flyby of Enceladus, WOW!

An article about the possibilities of life there

The BBC guide to Enceladus

USA today article about the icy geysers

Boulder strewn surface, fantastic photos

Below is an artists conceptions about what the surface might be like:

11 Responses to “Speedskating on Enceladus”

  1. God, you’re a nerd.

    sorry, couldn’t help myself.

    Crashing at 500 mph would really hurt.

    How would you land your vertical jump?

    There needs to be more thought put into this…

  2. but at 1/125 earth gravity, I would weight under 2 pounds, so there would not be a lot of mass to do damage to myself with, maybe that would be offset somewhat by the speed.

    Look, one of the astronauts who went to the moon actually smuggled a real golf ball up there, and using an improvised club, took a few swings in a low G environment, so there is precident for this kind of stuff….

  3. But Andrew, I think at a 500 mph sprint, you might even fling yourself off into space. At least you wouldn’t have to worry about that scale.

  4. If my understanding of physics is correct, even at a speed of 500 mph, if you were to crash into an object on that ice, it would feel the same as if you hit something at 35 mph as if you were on Earth. So it would definitely hurt, but not kill you.

  5. I’ve been skating on Mars! See for yourself:

    http://communicatie.blogspot.com/2005/10/schaatsen-op-mars.html

  6. Wow! What a vision! People, get over the petty practicalities for a moment, this is poetic flight of fancy to the max. Just to dream such a thing is magnificent.

    While I’m not optimistic that you’ll actually get to do it in this lifetime, if there were any chance, i’d gladly contribute my lunch money to sending you. Since you’d surely blog the ever-living carp out of it, that would support literature as well as sport.
    (carp is not a typo, it’s a euphemism that’s taken on a life of its own; fishifying the household dialect.)

    just think of the photos - and the movies!!! golf - bah!

  7. Wow. As I’m a budding skier, do you think that there are moons or even planets that might support skiing? Just a thought.

    On another note, would you be able to jump over a crater, and could someone get a photo/movie of you in midair?

  8. when i was 15 and a speedskater, we didn’t know that much about mars yet, so it was easy to fantasize that we’d have mars colonies soon and i could go speedskating on the ‘canals’ [well, lowell told us they were there]even then i did some nerd extrapolation and came to some of the same conclusions you did with low grav and wind resistance; you;d be a frickin superman! there are probably some frozen canals in the northern regions near the ice caps just waiting for us now…what a waste!

  9. Just to add…of course, the whole idea is beautiful. Absolutely. I’ve done my share of dreaming about space, too…aside from being enough of a nerd to joke about the numbers. Your idea makes one heck of a great contest entry!

  10. […] ly picked a GRAND PRIZE WINNER… ANDREW LOVE from “Zen and the Art of Speedskating”. READ HIS ESSAY, and you’ll see why we simply HAD to make him the winner. This is a very origi […]

  11. […] pr 2006 10:27 am Giving Good Lei & Magic Glasses Recently, I made a post called “Speedskating on Enceladus” that was my entry to a contest hosted over at the wonderful blog Last Girl on Eart […]

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