Shock Is there an ocean under the surface of Saturn’s ‘Death Star’ moon?

Shock Is there an ocean under the surface of Saturn's 'Death Star' moon? 1

Researchers have discovered that one of Saturn’s moons, which bears a striking resemblance to the Death Star from Star Wars due to a colossal impact crater, harbors a concealed ocean beneath its weathered exterior.

This intriguing finding sheds light on the moon’s potential for supporting life. The moon, known for its distinctive appearance, has captivated scientists who have long speculated about its composition.

By utilizing advanced technology and conducting extensive research, experts have now confirmed the existence of a vast ocean buried beneath the moon’s battered crust.

This discovery not only deepens our understanding of the moon’s geology but also raises exciting possibilities for the presence of extraterrestrial life within our own solar system.

Joining an Exclusive Club

Mimas, a moon measuring 250 miles in diameter, has recently joined an exclusive group of celestial bodies known to have hidden oceans.

This group includes Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus, as well as Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede. The revelation of Mimas’ subterranean ocean has taken astronomers by surprise.

Valéry Lainey, an astronomer from the Observatoire de Paris in France, expressed his astonishment at the discovery. He noted that Mimas’ surface does not provide any indication of the presence of an ocean, making it the most unexpected candidate for such a finding.

Peculiarities in Mimas’s Orbit

Astronomers had two possible explanations for the peculiarities in Mimas’s orbit: an elongated core covered in ice or an internal ocean that allowed its outer shell to move independently.

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To investigate this further, researchers analyzed thousands of images from NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn. By reconstructing the precise spin and orbital motion of Mimas, they concluded that it must have a hidden subsurface ocean.

According to Lainey and his colleagues, there is no way to account for both the spin and orbit of Mimas with a rigid interior. The presence of a global ocean is necessary for the icy shelf to shift as observed.

The Depths of Mimas

According to their calculations, scientists believe that there is an ocean beneath the icy shell of Saturn’s moon, Mimas. This ocean is estimated to be 45 miles deep, which is more than half of Mimas’s total volume.

The temperatures near the sea floor are believed to reach tens of degrees Celsius. Interestingly, this ocean is considered relatively young in astronomical terms, having formed within the past 25 million years.

The formation of this ocean is attributed to the powerful tidal forces exerted by Saturn, which deformed Mimas’s core and heated it. As a result, the core melted the overlying ice, creating the ocean inside the moon.

Despite the presence of this ocean, the surface of Mimas remains heavily battered, with one particularly large impact creating the Herschel crater, named after the astronomer who first discovered Mimas in 1789.

Exploring the Potential for Life

The discovery of global oceans in moons around Saturn and Jupiter has sparked interest from space agencies eager to explore their potential for harboring life.

Enceladus, for example, has more than 100 geysers where vapor blasts through surface fractures. If life ever evolved on the moon, the plumes could propel extraterrestrial microbes out into space where they could be detected by visiting missions.

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Possibility of Life on Mimas

Lainey stated that since Mimas contains water in contact with warm rock, he would not rule out the existence of life there. However, if the hidden ocean is only tens of millions of years old, life may not have had a chance to emerge. He said, “Whether it’s too young, nobody knows. I would say: why not?”

Other Promising Candidates

David Rothery, a professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University, believes that even if Mimas harbors a subsurface ocean, there are easier places to search for life beyond Earth.

He stated, “There’s no indication of a connection between the internal ocean, where life could survive, and the surface or space where traces of life could be detected and sampled, such as we have done in the plumes of Enceladus, and hope to do on the surface or in plumes at Europa.

If there were life inside Mimas, it would be hidden by more than 20km of unbroken ice. Europa and Enceladus are much more promising candidates.”