Saturn’s ‘Death Star’ Moon Might Have a Secret Underground Ocean

Scientists have found “compelling evidence” that Saturn’s “Death Star” moon hides an ocean just below its surface, fueling the search for possible life in our solar system.

Researchers say Mimas, Saturn’s innermost and smallest moon, whose resemblance to the infamous Star Wars battle station inspired its nickname, revealed the first hint that it could be a “stealth ocean world” after the Cassini probe of NASA detected a strange wobble in the rotation of the moon. .

Now, new research published Jan. 19 in the journal Icarus suggests the wobble could be the result of a liquid ocean sloshing trapped just below the icy surface of the 246-mile-wide (396-kilometer) moon. If this is the case, the researchers say that Saturn’s moon is an entirely new kind of world. The discovery of the little moon’s secret ocean could mean that water, and the possible life it can support, could be much more abundant in our solar system than previously thought.

In Photos: Meet Mimas: Saturn’s Death Star Moon

“If Mimas does have an ocean, it represents a new class of small ‘stealth’ ocean worlds with surfaces that don’t betray the existence of the ocean,” said study first author Alyssa Rhoden, a geophysicist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. he said in a statement.

Inner water ocean worlds (IWOWs), such as Saturn’s Enceladus or Jupiter’s Europa, are not new to scientists, but internal tidal processes tend to fracture their surfaces and show other signs of geological activity. Mimas, on the other hand, seemed at first glance to be “just a frozen block of ice,” Rhoden said.

“It turns out that the surface of Mimas was playing tricks on us, and our new understanding has greatly expanded the definition of a potentially habitable world in our solar system and beyond,” he added.

To investigate the possibility of a hidden ocean beneath Mimas’ frozen surface, the researchers built a model to see if its gravitational interactions with Saturn could produce the tidal forces needed to heat the moon’s interior, keeping water below its limits. 15 to 20 miles. – Thick outer ice cap (24 to 31 km) hot enough to remain liquid.

“Most of the time when we create these models, we have to adjust them to produce what we observe,” Rhoden said. “This time, evidence for an internal ocean simply arose from the more realistic ice-sheet stability scenarios and observed librations. [planetary wobbles].”

The findings make Mimas a “compelling target for further investigation,” Rhoden said. By studying the moon’s ability to support an ocean, scientists could gain a better understanding of other potential hidden ocean moons hidden farther out in our solar system, such as the moons of Uranus.

Originally published on Live Science.

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