Saturn’s tiny moon harbors a global ocean beneath its icy shell

One of Saturn's smallest moons holds a secret.

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Researchers have recently discovered a hidden global ocean of liquid water beneath- Saturn’s tiny moon- Mimas’ icy shell. This ocean is believed to be formed just 5 to 15 million years ago.

This exclusive discovery adds Mimas to the list of moons with internal oceans, including Enceladus and Europa. However, there is a unique difference: its ocean is remarkably young.

For this study, researchers analyzed data from NASA‘s Cassini spacecraft, which meticulously studied Saturn and its moons for over a decade. They noticed subtle changes in Mimas orbit and inferred the presence of a hidden ocean, and estimated its size and depth.

As a result, Mimas provides a unique window into the early stages of ocean formation and the potential for life to emerge.

Dr Nick Cooper, a co-author of the study and Honorary Research Fellow in the Astronomy Unit of the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, said, “This has been a great team effort, with colleagues from five different institutions and three different countries coming together under the leadership of Dr Valéry Lainey to unlock another fascinating and unexpected feature of the Saturn system, using data from the Cassini mission.”

“The discovery of Mimas’s young ocean has significant implications for our understanding of the potential for life beyond Earth. It suggests that even small, seemingly inactive moons can harbor hidden oceans capable of supporting life-essential conditions. This opens up exciting new avenues for future exploration, potentially leading us closer to answering the age-old question: are we alone in the universe?”

Journal Reference:

  1. V. Lainey, N. Rambaux, G. Tobie, N. Cooper, Q. Zhang, B. Noyelles, K. Bailli�. A recently formed ocean inside Saturn’s moon Mimas. Nature, 2024; 626 (7998): 280 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06975-9
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