Birmingham spacecraft engineer interviewed by BBC about her role in the breakthrough discovery of water on Saturn's Enceladus moon

enceladus-moon-icy-plume1-cropped-465x296
Illustration of the interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus showing a global liquid water ocean between its rocky core and icy crust. Thickness of layers shown here is not to scale. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On 2 June 2021, BBC Earth’s Planet Explorers released an interview with Dr Leah-Nani Alconcel and her colleagues, discussing the different roles she and her teammates played in NASA-European Space Agency (ESA) Cassini mission to Saturn.

In the programme, titled ‘The women leading the exploration of Saturn - Planet Explorers’, Dr Alconcel explains how she worked on the spacecraft’ magnetometer sensors. These sensors, which detect magnetic fields, provided scientists with the first indication that there was liquid water in the south pole of Saturn’s Enceladus moon.

The discovery, made in 2008, marked the first-time liquid water had been discovered elsewhere in the solar system, other than the Earth.

Reflecting on the discovery, Dr Alconcel said: “It was fantastic, a real a wow moment. There was liquid elsewhere in the solar system, other than the Earth.”

Leah-Nani Alconcel

Dr Alconcel (pictured) is a spacecraft engineer and Aerospace Engineering course lecturer in the School of Metallurgy and Materials. She is Deputy Admissions Tutor for the School. She has research interests in payload instrument development and calibration, data management for space, and pedagogical methods for inclusive STEMM teaching

Cassini was one of the most ambitious efforts ever mounted in planetary exploration. A joint endeavour of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency), and the Italian space agency (ASI), Cassini was a sophisticated robotic spacecraft sent to study Saturn and its complex system of rings and moons in unprecedented detail. The mission lasted over a decade, from 2005 to 2017.

Planet Explorers is produced by BBC Earth. The series brings epic stories of exploration and discovery around five bodies in our solar system, told by the scientists who love and study them. Please follow the link below to watch the programme on Facebook:

Facebook - The women leading the exploration of Saturn - Planet Explorers