Saturn’s mini moon harbors a hidden ocean

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In an astonishing discovery, astronomers have uncovered compelling evidence of a vast ocean lurking beneath the icy shell of Saturn’s diminutive moon, Mimas, often likened to the Death Star from “Star Wars” due to its striking resemblance.

This revelation, spearheaded by a French-led team of scientists, adds Mimas to the list of celestial bodies within our solar system that could potentially harbor life.

Utilizing data gathered by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which spent over a decade meticulously observing Saturn and its extensive family of moons before meeting its end in 2017, researchers have deduced the presence of a hidden ocean situated 12 to 18 miles beneath Mimas’ frozen exterior.

This finding challenges previous notions about Mimas, a moon that, despite its heavily cratered surface, showed no overt signs of subsurface activity, such as the fractures and geysers observed on Enceladus, another of Saturn’s moons, and Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.

The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that this concealed ocean occupies about half of Mimas’ volume, yet it constitutes a mere fraction of Earth’s oceanic water, owing to the moon’s relatively small size.

Mimas, with a diameter of just about 250 miles, is distinguished by a massive impact crater that has drawn comparisons to the iconic Death Star.

Valery Lainey of the Paris Observatory, a co-author of the study, expressed surprise at the discovery, noting that Mimas was perhaps the least expected candidate to host a global ocean and, by extension, liquid water which is a crucial ingredient for life as we know it.

The potential for habitability on Mimas raises intriguing questions about the conditions necessary for life to emerge.

The ocean beneath Mimas’ icy crust is estimated to be between 5 million and 15 million years old, relatively young in cosmic terms, and thus, has not left any visible marks on the moon’s surface.

Researchers speculate that the ocean’s temperature is around the freezing point, with the possibility of warmer conditions at the seafloor, which could have implications for the moon’s potential to support life.

Nick Cooper from Queen Mary University of London, another co-author, highlighted the significance of discovering such a “remarkably young” ocean of liquid water, positioning Mimas as an important focus for future research into the origins of life.

Discovered in 1789 by William Herschel, Mimas is named after a giant from Greek mythology.

This latest discovery not only enriches our understanding of Saturn’s moons but also underscores the diverse and dynamic nature of celestial bodies in our solar system, offering new perspectives on where life might exist beyond Earth.

The research findings can be found in Nature.

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