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PSI’s Matt Walker Finds Evidence of Internal Ocean in Small Saturn Moon


Saturn’s moon Mimas could have a buried underground ocean beneath its surface.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. 


Researchers discovered compelling evidence that Saturn’s moon Mimas has an underground ocean buried beneath its surface which, if verified, would make it a potentially habitable place. 

“In our recent 2022 Icarus paper, The case for an ocean-bearing Mimas from tidal heating analysis, Alyssa Rhoden of Southwest Research Institute and I apply a tidal heating model and a heat transfer model to examine the equilibrium states of an icy satellite of Saturn, Mimas,” said PSI Associate Research Scientist Matt Walker. “And so, when we applied our models to this system, we were quite surprised to find that Mimas may very well have a fluid subsurface layer under its icy surface.” 

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft detected librations, or tiny wobbles which suggested the possibility that Mimas is more geologically active than meets the eye.  One solution in this work found a Mimas able to support an internal ocean roughly 14 to 20 miles thick. Considering this libration forcing term in their tidal heating models the team found that their heat transfer models also suggested shells of the same thicknesses found in that previous work. 

Walker’s role in the research consisted of the development of the model components, as well as the application to this system. These models produced the numerical output which he used to generate the plots. He assisted in the development of the manuscript, methods and appendices.

Feb. 27, 2022
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