Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Saturn moon may have 'life-friendly' ocean

18 October 2014, 11:09

Cape Canaveral - Saturn's battered moon Mimas may have a thin global ocean buried miles beneath its icy surface, raising the prospect of another "life-friendly" habitat in the solar system, scientists said on Thursday.

An underground ocean is one of two explanations for why the 250km diameter moon wobbles as it orbits around Saturn, scientists using data from Nasa's Cassini spacecraft said.

The other possibility is that Mimas has an oblong or rugby ball-shaped core. Follow-up measurements should provide more answers, the scientists said.

Either way, the findings point to a more complex and intriguing history for a moon best known for a large crater that dominates its surface, making it look like the "Death Star" from the movie Star Wars.

"If Mimas does have an ocean, this would definitely be another interesting body in the solar system to be added to list of potential 'life-friendly' environments," wrote Radwan Tajeddine, a research associate in Cornell University's astronomy department.

"The ocean hypothesis sounds unlikely because... Mimas' heavily cratered surface has shown no evidence of liquid water, thermal heating or geological activities," researchers wrote in an article published in this week's issue of the journal Science.

Moon formation

But a closer look at Mimas' eccentric orbit provides a clue. Gravitational tugging by Saturn as the moon circles closer and then farther away from the planet could cause enough frictional heating to melt ice and form an ocean.

"This ocean will sustain as long as the orbit is eccentric," Tajeddine, lead author of the article, wrote in the email to Reuters.

The other idea that Mimas has an elongated core raises a different set of questions about how the moon formed.

One theory is that Mimas, and possibly sister moons Enceladus, Tethys, Dione and Rhea, evolved from a collection of rocky chunks circling close to Saturn. Gravitational forces from Saturn would have sculpted the moon's core into an oblong shape, which was then covered in ice.

In this scenario, Tajeddine said, the icy shell relaxes and forms a nearly spherical shape while the moon migrates outward. Meanwhile, low temperatures preserve the shape of the oblong core.

- Reuters

Tags astronomy

Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Submitted by
Wilwon Ochieng
Deputy Governor's ally found with...

The EACC has recovered KES 2 million in fake currency from a close ally of Deputy Governor for Tharaka Nithi Eliud Mati. Read more...

Submitted by
William Korir
Mudavadi given permission to join...

Musalia Mudavadi has been ghranted permission by his party to join the CORD Coalition. Read more...

Submitted by
Victor Tinto
EACC officers raid Deputy Governo...

EACC officers raided the home of a Deputy Governor as theft case continues in court. Read more...

Submitted by
Wilson Ochieng
New IEBC bosses to be named Novem...

New IEBC bosses will be named on November 30. Read more...

Submitted by
William Korir
DP Ruto has spoilt my name, activ...

DP William Ruto has spoilt my name, activist complains. Read more...

Submitted by
Wilson Ochieng
Apologise for attack on Auditor G...

Apologise for attack on Auditor General, President Uhuru Kenyatta is told by Kisumu Senator Anyang Nyong'o. Read more...