From Giants to Saturn

In Greek mythology, Encelade is a Giant, son of Gaïa (the Earth), fertilized by the blood of Ouranos (both Sky and Life) after his castration by Cronos, king of Titans – one of Ouranos’s own son.

Cronos jailed all sisters and brothers of Ouranos, the Hecatonchires and the Cyclops, inside of Tartarus. To avoid Ouranos’s curse (when Cronos’s son will be adult, he will also turn against his father), Cronos swallowed all his children – but for one them, saved by his mother, Rhea : Zeus. 

When in adulthood, Zeus decided to free his sisters and brothers, and to take revenge of his father. He succeeded in giving a strong emetic to Cronos, who regurgitated all his children. The children all rebelled straight away against their father. War broke out. Cronos called the Titans for help ; Zeus had support from all Cronos’s prisoners he liberated, and who become his allies during the Titanomachy. Conflict was won by Zeus’s side, the Olympians. Titans where in return jailed in Tartarus.  

Gaïa, outraged by this imprisonment, declared war to the Gods of Olympus. She tolds Giants to rebell. Giants, of divine birth, could nevertheless be killed if they were hit by both a god and a human being. Gaïa gave then life to a grass allowing his children to be invisible to human’s eyes, and immortal to their strikes. This was the time of Gigantomanchy.

During war between Gods and Titans, Encelade deserted the battlefield and Athena shelled the Giant by throwing Sicily on him, where he was jailed under Etna mount. Giant’s breath made Etna volcanic eruptions, and his movements under the mount, earthquakes. 

Encelade is also the name given to a natural satellite of Saturn, the planet with external rings. It rotates around Saturn, localized inside the thinner and more distant ring of all, called E-Ring. 


Encelade is covered by a layer of blue reflects, similar to freash ice snow ; a thick layer, maybe of one hundred meters, which could underlay a vast liquid ocean.  


This liquid water is suspected to go back to surface in powerfull geysers, that could have been iniatiors of Saturn E-Ring, and continuing to permanently feed it with particles.  


Encelade is one of the four objects of our solar system (with Jupiter’s satellite Io, Neptune’s one Trion, and Earth) where eruptions or material ejections have been directly observed.  

Massive amount of both liquid and solid water, cryovolcanism, both in our solar system, are properties making Encelade an extremely peculiar, and very promising, object for astrophysics : the three ingredients for life (heat, water and organic molecules) could be present on this celestial body.

For the author, Encelade perfectly symbolizes both beauty and power of the complexity surrounding us : wonderful equilibriums, fragile, lost in immensity of infinite space ; majestuous mecanisms, cosmic, producing the purest celestial clock machinery ; and Life’s principle, together again. A perfect sign of humility, and hope, for all our species. 



About the author

Scientific background, and professional career in applied research and development (surface & tribology, human-computer interaction) in the Centre de Recherche Public Henri Tudor, that merged in 2015 with the Centre de Recherche Public Gabriel Lippman as the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology.