Scientists Perplexed to Find Something Under Saturn's 'Death Star' Moon

The eerie moon is believed to have liquid water 14 to 20 miles below its icy shell.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The giant crater on Saturn's moon Mimas.NASA

Saturn's eerie moon Mimas has been known only for its resemblance to Star Wars' Death Star until now. But now, a new study reveals that there might be more to the icy celestial object than previously believed, although it might not seem so at first glance.

"When you look at Enceladus and Europa, there's clearly an engine in these moons that is running," Alyssa Rhoden, a planetary scientist who researches ocean worlds, said to Mashable. "When you look at Mimas it's the opposite — it can't possibly be an ocean world."

Or can it?

Rhoden and her colleagues released new research where they spotted the possibility of the moon hiding an ocean world. 

This isn't entirely shocking news since methane geysers were previously discovered on Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons. These indicated the possibility of life on the faraway celestial object.

So why do scientists now believe there can be water on Mimas? Well, because of the moon's orbit. Mimas' orbit around Saturn takes just 22 hours and 36 minutes and creates a process called "tidal heating." In other ocean worlds like Europa, tidal heating produces enough of a rise in temperature to allow for water to exist. 

Rhoden and her team had previously noticed a tiny wobble in Mimas' orbit around Saturn and had deduced that an icy sea sloshing inside Mimas could be the source of this movement. This led the scientists to question whether the tidal heating might have been able to melt enough ice inside Mimas to create a sea. It's a hard balance to strike. There should not be too much heating or the water would evaporate. There should also not be too much cold or the water will remain frozen.

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Even though Rhoden and her team do not guarantee that oceans can exist on Mimas, they do say the possibility is there. Does that mean that life could also be present there? The answer to this question will only emerge with time and more research.