In a groundbreaking discovery, a team of researchers led by Valéry Lainey from the Paris Observatory-PSL have uncovered a global ocean of liquid water hidden beneath the cratered surface of Mimas, one of Saturn’s smallest moons. This young ocean, estimated to be only 5 to 15 million years old, makes Mimas an ideal primary objective for studying the origins of life in our solar system.
The discovery was made possible through the analysis of data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which meticulously studied Saturn and its moons for more than a decade. By closely examining subtle changes in Mimas’ orbit, researchers were able to infer the presence of a hidden ocean and estimate its size and depth.
Mimas is unique among moons with internal oceans as it has an unexpected irregularity in its orbit that suggests the ocean formed recently. This early age provides a unique window into the early stages of ocean formation and potential for life to emerge on this small moon.
The team includes colleagues from five different institutions and three countries who worked together under Lainey’s leadership to discover this fascinating and unexpected feature of the Saturn system. The discovery has important implications for our understanding of the potential for life beyond Earth. It suggests that even small, seemingly inactive moons may harbor hidden oceans capable of supporting conditions essential for life.