Saturn’s “death star” moon could hide water
When people are asked to name the moons of Saturn, Mimas is likely one of the orbs that people tend to forget. It has generally been considered an unremarkable moon, covered in ice and about a tenth the size of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. A new research paper reported on by the LA Times, however, suggests there may be more to the moon than first thought. There may be water under the ice, and where there’s water, there may be life.
Mimas is perhaps best known as the “Death Star” moon thanks to “Herschel,” a giant impact crater 81 miles across that is almost one third the diameter of the entire moon. The crater makes the moon look like the Star Wars base, hence the name. Until now, that has – arguably – been the moon’s defining feature.
An international team of researchers led by Cornell’s Radwan Tajeddine decided to take a closer look at the moon orbiting Saturn. Using a method known as stereo photogrammetry, the team built a 3D model based on the photographs taken of the moon by the Cassini orbiter. The researchers noticed that the moon seemed to be “librating,” or wobbling. After much debate, the team decided that the most likely causes were that the round moon has an oval core, more it has a liquid water ocean underneath the surface.
When it comes to searching for life in the solar system, water is always the first place scientists look. A handful of other moons, including Saturn’s Titan and Jupiter’s Europa, also potentially offer liquid water, and are high on the list of destinations NASA would love to explore.
If it turns out that the reason for the wobble is an oval core, that could also answer questions about how the planets and moons initially formed. Either way, Mimas just became a whole lot more interesting.