A possible explanation for one of Saturn's moons that has an underground ocean


The moon of Saturn Enceladus. Credit: NASA

A pair of researchers, one with the University of Maryland and the other with the Southwest Research Institute, found what they believe is a plausible explanation for the existence of the ocean below the surface of one of Saturn's moons. In his article published in the magazine. Nature astronomyMarc Neveu and Alyssa Rhoden describe the computer model they built to replicate conditions near Saturn over time and what they showed.

Saturn has more than 60 moons, ranging from tiny globes of less than 300 meters to the giant moon Titan, which has a larger circumference than Mercury. Some of the moons orbit near the planet, others quite far away. Scientists believe that only one of Saturn's moons, Enceladus, has a subsurface ocean. In this new effort, the researchers sought to determine why Enceladus is unique in the Saturn system.

The researchers began by noting that Saturn has only five inner moons, each of which is large enough to have a subsurface ocean and close enough to the planet to melt the ice. They also noted that previous work by others has suggested that all internal moons probably developed as a result of the coalesced material that was gathered from the debris of the entire planet, which would have included ice. They also noted that the five moons are impacted by the gravitational force of the planet, and between them. And finally, they noticed that previous researchers had created computer models meant to mimic the tides on Saturn's moons and their geology, but to date, models had not been created to model both, the only type of model that could explain why only one of the moons has a subsurface ocean.

The researchers designed their model to mimic the behavior of Saturn and its moons over the past 4.5 billion years. The model showed that Enceladus developed a subsurface ocean due to its unique gravitational interactions with the other moons: they forced Enceladus into an oblong orbit. They also found that Saturn's attraction to the moon continuously distorted it, and that flexing warmed the moon's interior, allowing the water underground to remain liquid. None of the other four moons had sufficiently similar conditions to allow water to remain liquid beneath its surfaces.

The moon of Saturn Atlas shines between the rings of the gas giant

More information:
Marc Neveu et al. Evolution of Saturn's medium moons, Nature astronomy (2019). DOI: 10.1038 / s41550-019-0726-y

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A possible explanation for one of Saturn's moons that has an underground ocean (2019, April 3)
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