During a mission to find out if Saturn’s moon Mimas was geologically dead or not, researchers discovered something far more startling: ‘irrefutable evidence’ of a subterranean ocean buried beneath the surface of the planet. death star like moon. According to the researchers, Mimas could be a “stealth” ocean world”, a discovery which, if verified, would further increase the number of potentially habitable places in our solar system.
Icy moons with evidence of subterranean oceans have attracted a lot of attention from scientists lately. The two best-known examples in our solar system, Saturn’s Enceladus and Jupiter’s Europa, are considered prime locations to search for extraterrestrial life. Enceladus, in particular, appears to have most of the ingredients needed to sustain life in its seawater, which gushes from geysers near the moon’s south pole.
But while the surfaces of Europa and Enceladus show signs of geologic activity, suggesting an internal heat source that allows liquid water to exist, the surface of Mimas is heavily cratered, causing the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) scientist Alyssa Rhoden to suspect it was “just a frozen block of ice,” according to a press release.
However, Rhoden now believes Mimas’ crater-like appearance hid an ocean. In research published earlier this month in the journal Icarus, Rhoden and his colleague Matthew Walker of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, show that tiny oscillations, or “librations” in the moon’s orbit detected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft can be explained by interactions gravitational forces with Saturn that produce enough heat to hold a liquid ocean under a thick shell of ice. A model developed by the team suggests the icy shell is 14 to 20 miles thick.
The results suggest that Mimas is a “compelling target for further investigation,” Rhoden said in a statement. Studying the moon’s potential to support an ocean, she says, could help researchers understand the prevalence of oceanic moons in even more remote and poorly explored places, like Uranus.