A new study on Mimas, one of the moons of Saturn, by a team led by Radwan Tajeddine, a research associate in astronomy at Cornell, proposes that the moon may have a large, underwater ocean that may be capable of sustaining life.
Tajeddine explained the logic behind his findings to The Huffington Post.
“After carefully examining Mimas, we found it librates – that is, it subtly wobbles – around the moon’s polar axis.”
The measurements of the wobble were noticed utilizing the Cassini Spacecraft. The wobble of Mimas has about twice the displacement that scientists had originally expected to see. Tajeddine says that the prospect that there might be a submerged ocean on Mimas is fascinating.
“We’re very excited about this measurement because it may indicate much about the satellite’s insides. Nature is essentially allowing us to do the same thing that a child does when she shakes a wrapped gift in hopes of figuring out what’s hidden inside.”
Tajeddine and his team estimate that if there is an ocean submerged on Mimas, it lies some 15 to 18 miles below the moon’s icy surface.
Up to now, Mimas’ only claim to fame was the large Herschel Crater that makes it look like the Death Star from Star Wars.
In the past, scientists believed that Mimas was just a very large rock. However, Tajeddine’s paper could target Mimas as one of the places within the solar system the could hold the right conditions for life as we know it.
However, there are scientists that are dismissing the subsurface ocean conclusion. Francis Nimmo of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said he didn’t think there was an ocean inside Mimas.
“It’s really hard to understand how an ocean could survive for billions of years inside something as small as Mimas.”
So, if there isn’t an ocean beneath the surface of Mimas, then what’s causing all that unusual libration? One idea is that the moon has an elongated, oval-shaped core. This elongation might have happened as the moon formed under the push and pull of Saturn’s rings.
The problem with the subsurface ocean theory is that the heat radiating from the core escapes through the moon’s ice-covered surface and would cause any subsurface ocean to quickly freeze.
There is water in same stellar zip code as Mimas, however, according to Space.com. Another of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, contains a liquid water ocean beneath its surface. Scientists estimate the ocean to be about six miles deep.