Monday, September 26, 2022

Death Star-like moon hides another epic secret


The solar system may be even more raw than we thought.

A new analysis of one of Saturn’s moons suggests it may contain a liquid ocean. No, not the usual suspects – the new culprit is Mimas, a small moon with a large crater that gives it more than a passing resemblance to the Death Star from star Wars.

A small, peculiar wobble in the moon detected by astronomers could be the result of a liquid interior ocean, according to a new study.

If so, Mimas would join other Solar System moons such as Europa and Enceladus in the “IWOW” (Inland Water Ocean Worlds) category. But if so, then this is an IWOW that we have never seen before, expanding our understanding of what is possible.

“Since the surface of Mimas is heavily cratered, we thought it was just a frozen block of ice,” says geophysicist Alyssa Roden of the Southwestern Research Institute.

“IWOWs like Enceladus and Europa tend to be fractured and show other signs of geological activity. It turns out that the surface of Mimas was deceiving us, and our new understanding greatly expanded the definition of a potentially habitable world in our solar system and beyond.

Here on Earth, life mostly depends on sunlight to survive, but there are a few places where organisms can thrive in complete darkness.

At the bottom of the ocean is one of them, clustered around hydrothermal vents that release heat and nutrients from the Earth’s interior. Here, life does not depend on photosynthesis, but on chemosynthesis, using chemical reactions to synthesize food.

This became relevant to our search for extraterrestrial life when Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus were found to contain liquid oceans under their icy crust.

Geological activity deep within the moons, driven by tidal stretching and attraction caused by gravitational interactions with their respective planets, generates enough heat to keep water below the surface from freezing.

However, Mimas does not appear to have belonged to this group of moons. It is closer to Saturn and has a more eccentric (elliptical) orbit than Enceladus, meaning it must experience stronger tides; however, its activity is much lower than that of Enceladus.

This led the scientists to conclude that Mimas was probably completely frozen and thus less prone to deformation.

But the vexing problem of its libration, or the physical “wobble” detected by the Cassini probe for Saturn, remained. If Mimas were solid, it wouldn’t have to wobble the same way.

The libration of the moon suggested that either it had a differentiated core or a liquid ocean—something that prevented the core from being rigidly connected to the surface, allowing the latter to move.

Roden and her team wanted to explore the possibility of a liquid ocean. They needed to solve the problem of generating and dissipating enough heat from the moon’s interior to keep the water inside the moon in a liquid state while maintaining a very thick, frozen outer shell.

“Most of the time when we create these models, we have to tweak them to get what we observe,” Roden explains. “This time, the evidence for an inland ocean just popped out of the most realistic scenarios of ice sheet stability and observed librations.”

According to their models, the Mimas ice sheet is 24 to 31 kilometers (15 to 20 miles) thick, under which a global ocean swirls. Since Mimas is only 396 kilometers (246 miles) in diameter, it is comparatively very thick; The ice shell of Enceladus has dimensions from 5 to 35 kilometers with a diameter of 513 kilometers.

The team also found that the heat flux from the surface of Mimas is likely to be very sensitive to ice thickness in any given region. Future probes should be able to measure this directly, both on Mimas and other IWOWs.

Finally, models suggest that in addition to a liquid ocean, Mimas also has a differentiated core. This contradicts our previous models of the evolution of Mimas, as the early differentiation of the Moon must have produced an orbit very different from what it has today. This makes Mimas potentially very interesting for further study and research.

“While our results support the presence of a modern ocean within Mimas, it is difficult to reconcile the satellite’s orbital and geological characteristics with our current understanding of its thermal orbital evolution,” says Roden.

“Assessing the status of Mimas as an oceanic moon would allow us to compare patterns of its formation and evolution. This would help us better understand Saturn’s rings and medium-sized moons, as well as the abundance of potentially habitable oceanic moons, especially on Uranus. subject for further investigation.

The study was published in Icarus.


Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
Nation World News is the fastest emerging news website covering all the latest news, world’s top stories, science news entertainment sports cricket’s latest discoveries, new technology gadgets, politics news, and more.

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