Paris, France – Researchers have made a surprising discovery about Saturn’s moon Mimas, which is known for its resemblance to the Death Star from Star Wars. They have found evidence suggesting that a massive internal ocean, buried beneath the moon’s icy shell, may exist.
The findings, published in Nature, reveal that Mimas, a moon 250 miles wide, may have an underground ocean as deep as 45 miles, accounting for more than half of its volume. This unexpected revelation places Mimas in the company of other moons in the solar system known to harbor subterranean oceans, such as Saturn’s Titan and Enceladus, and Jupiter’s Europa and Ganymede.
The discovery was made by analyzing images from NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn. Scientists reconstructed the moon’s precise spin and orbital motion, leading them to conclude that Mimas must possess a hidden subsurface ocean to move the way it does.
Importantly, this finding has implications for the potential for life beyond Earth. The discovery of global oceans in moons around Saturn and Jupiter has prompted a flurry of interest from space agencies eager to explore their potential for harboring life. For example, more than 100 geysers have been spotted on Enceladus, and if life ever evolved on the moon, the plumes could propel extraterrestrial microbes out into space where they could be detected by visiting missions.
The researchers speculate on the possibility of life existing within Mimas, given the presence of water in contact with warm rock. However, they acknowledge that the moon’s hidden ocean may be relatively young, formed in the past 25 million years due to powerful tidal forces exerted by Saturn deforming Mimas’s core, and that may not have been enough time for life to get started and established.
While the discovery of a subsurface ocean in Mimas is intriguing, some experts caution that there are easier places to search for life beyond Earth. For instance, there’s no indication of a connection between the internal ocean and the moon’s surface or space, as is the case with the plumes of Enceladus or the potential for life on Europa.
Overall, the newfound evidence of a hidden ocean beneath Mimas’s icy shell opens up new avenues for research into the potential for life beyond Earth in our solar system. These findings could also serve as a catalyst for further exploration and investigation by space agencies in the years to come.