Saturn’s ‘Death Star moon’ Mimas may be hiding an inner ocean

Mimas will not try to destroy Saturn.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn has some famous moons, like Enceladus (a mystery moon that spews feathers) and Titan (the intriguing target of NASA’s upcoming Dragonfly mission). But what about delicate Mimas, a moon that is best known for its resemblance to the Death Star from Star Wars? Turns out it may be hiding an inner ocean.

A study published in the journal Icarus presents evidence to suggest that Mimas has liquid deep within its icy surface. “If Mimas has an ocean, it represents a new class of small, ‘stealthy’ ocean worlds with surfaces that don’t betray the ocean’s existence,” lead author Alyssa Rhoden said in a statement from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) on Wednesday. market.

Mimas may seem quiet, but NASA is now defunct Cassini spacecraft studying Saturn “identified a curious libration, or wobble, in the moon’s rotation that often points to a geologically active body capable of supporting an inland ocean,” SwRI said.

The libration detected by Cassini suggests that Mimas’ interior is warm enough for a liquid ocean, but not so hot that it compromises the moon’s thick ice sheet. The researchers calculate that the ice sheet can be up to 31 kilometers thick.

There’s a nifty acronym for inland water ocean worlds: IWOWs. Known IWOWs include Enceladus, Titan and the fascinating moon of Jupiter Europe. These places are particularly interesting because they can be habitable for microbial life. Larger moons tend to have geological activity on their surfaces that suggests what is happening below. Mimas, however, is doing a good job of hiding her liquid, if any.

“It turns out that the surface of Mimas was deceiving us, and our new understanding has greatly expanded the definition of a potentially habitable world in our solar system and beyond,” Rhoden said.

Researchers are not yet ready to declare Mimas a foolproof IWOW. There are still doubts surrounding its formation and evolution. Rhoden called it a “compelling target for ongoing investigation”.

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