moss

Scientists Discover Desert Moss That ‘Could Survive On Mars’

Scientists in China stated that they have discovered a moss that would be able to withstand conditions on the planet Mars. The moss itself is called Syntrichia caninervis, and was found in regions of Antarctica and the Mojave desert. 

The scientists involved in this feat recently published the information in the journal The Innovation. They wrote that the moss could withstand conditions such as drought, high levels of radiation, and extreme cold temperatures. 

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The team stated that this work is the first to look at how the plant could potentially survive, and potentially be grown, on the planet’s surface. 

​​“The unique insights obtained in our study lay the foundation for outer space colonization using naturally selected plants adapted to extreme stress conditions,” the team wrote.

“Cultivating terrestrial plants is an important part of any long-term space mission because plants efficiently turn carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and carbohydrates – essentially the air and food that humans need to survive. Desert moss is not edible, but it could provide other important services in space,” said Professor Stuart McDaniel, an expert on moss at the University of Florida who was not involved in the study. 

The moss itself could also work to transform rocky surfaces that would allow other plants to grow on Mars. 

They wrote that the desert moss was able to quickly recover from almost complete dehydration, and was able to regenerate in normal growth conditions after spending nearly five years at -112 degrees Fahrenheit, and 30 days at -320.8 degrees Fahrenheit. It also could regenerate after exposure to gamma rays. 

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The team wrote that they created a set-up that has similar pressures, gases, temperatures, and UV radiation levels to Mars.  

“Looking to the future, we expect that this promising moss could be brought to Mars or the moon to further test the possibility of plant colonization and growth in outer space,” the researchers wrote. 

“This paper is exciting because it shows that desert moss survives short exposures to some of the stresses that are likely to be found on a trip to Mars, including very high levels of radiation, very cold temperatures, and very low oxygen levels,” Professor McDaniel said. 

“These experiments represent an important first step, but they do not show that the moss could be a significant source of oxygen under Martian conditions, nor do they show that the desert moss could reproduce and proliferate in the Martian context.”

Dr Agata Zupanska, of the SETI Institute, agreed that the study’s findings are exciting, however, more research is needed before we can get to a place of growing plants on Mars. 

“In my opinion, we are getting close to growing plants in extraterrestrial greenhouses, and moss certainly has a place in those. Implying that moss, or any other pioneering species, is ready to terraform Mars, or any other outer planet, is an exaggeration,” she said. 

“This extremotolerant moss could be a promising pioneer plant for Mars colonization. We have a long way to go, but this lowly desert moss offers hope for making small portions of Mars habitable for humankind in the future,” said Professor Edward Guinan of Villanova University.

covid

Covid Immune Response Study Revealing Potential Reason Some People Avoid Infection 

In a new study from the University College London, scientists have discovered potential differences in immune responses that could reveal why some individuals avoid infection from Covid-19. 

The study, according to The Guardian, intentionally gave healthy adults a small nasal dose of Covid-19. The results showed that specialized immune cells in the nose could fight off the virus in the early stages of development before a full infection can form. 

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“These findings shed new light on the crucial early events that either allow the virus to take hold or rapidly clear it before symptoms develop. We now have a much greater understanding of the full range of immune responses, which could provide a basis for developing potential treatments and vaccines that mimic these natural protective responses,”  said Dr Marko Nikolić, senior author and honorary consultant in respiratory medicine. 

36 healthy adult volunteers without a previous history of having Covid and were unvaccinated were given a small dose of the virus through the nose. The study was done in 2021 at the height of the pandemic. 

16 of the volunteers were monitored specifically within the immune cells of the blood and the lining of the nose.

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“These participants were found to fall into three distinct groups: six people developed a sustained infection and became ill; three people became transiently positive but without developing a full infection; and seven experienced an ‘abortive infection.’ This subset never tested positive, but the tests showed they had mounted an immune response,” according to Hannah Devlin, a Science Correspondent for the Guardian. 

The abortive and transient groups had samples taken pre-exposure, and showed high activity levels in a gene called HLA-DQA2. 

“These cells will take a little bit of the virus and show it to immune cells and say: ‘This is foreign: you need to go and sort it out,’” said Dr Kaylee Worlock of UCL, first author of the study.

The study suggested that those with high levels of activity of the gene may have a more efficient immune response to Covid, however, they were not completely immune. 

The study could provide a basis for developing further and more effective treatments and vaccine options that can replicate the initial immune response that the cells in the nose provide.

vaccine

Scientists Worried About Bird Flu Vaccine Development As Cases Rise In Farm Animals Across US 

The avian flu virus has been taking out flocks of birds and infecting other animals, mainly on farms, throughout the US. According to reports from CBS, there are cattle in at least nine states that have been infected, as well as two people. While the two individuals only suffered from pink eye and quickly recovered, the spreading is relatively unheard of, raising concerns of another global pandemic. 

Scientists are particularly concerned about the millions of fertilized hen eggs that are needed to make vaccines, in the case that there’s a larger outbreak of a new flu strain. 

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“It’s almost comical to be using 1940s technology for a 21st-century pandemic,” said Rick Bright, who led the Health and Human Services Department’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

“It’s not so funny when the currently stockpiled formulation against the H5N1 bird flu virus requires two shots and a whopping 90 micrograms of antigen, yet provides just middling immunity. For the U.S. alone, it would take hens laying 900,000 eggs every single day for nine months,” Bright said.

The raw material utilized for an influenza vaccine derives from the virus being grown within fertilized eggs. The birds themselves need to not be infected, and there’s always a chance that the virus won’t grow well, or well grow in a mutated form that would make it ineffective. 

“Everyone knows cell-based vaccines are better, more immunogenic, and offer better production. But they are handicapped because of the clout of egg-based manufacturing,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security. 

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“The companies that make the cell-based influenza vaccines, CSL Seqirus and Sanofi, also have billions invested in egg-based production lines that they aren’t eager to replace. And it’s hard to blame them,” said Nicole Lurie, an executive director of CEPI, the global epidemic-fighting nonprofit.

“Most vaccine companies that responded to an epidemic — Ebola, Zika, COVID — ended up losing a lot of money on it,” Lurie said.

CBS reported that Adalja said “the vaccines currently in the national stockpile are not a perfect match for the strain in question. Even with two shots containing six times as much vaccine substance as typical flu shots, the stockpiled vaccines were only partly effective against strains of the virus that circulated when those vaccines were made.” 

“Flu vaccine companies have a system that works well right now to accomplish their objectives in manufacturing the seasonal vaccine. And without a financial incentive, we are going to be here with eggs for a while, I think,” Boucher said.

sea otter

Sea Otters Use Tools To Combat Food Competition Amid Climate Change, According To Study 

In certain parts of the ocean, sea otters are facing major competition for food, partially due to climate change limiting food supplies. However, they’ve adapted by utilizing “tools” such as rocks or even glass bottles to open tougher prey, like clams, giving them an opportunity to maintain their diet. 

These observations were recently published as a part of a new study published in the journal Science. The study analyzed sea otters in Monterey Bay, California, and was specifically looking at how individual otters used various tools they found, and how utilizing them impacted their health and nutrition. 

The findings also concluded that this skill set could increase sea otters chances of survival in ocean environments that are constantly changing as a result of climate change. 

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Sea otters often spend their days foraging for food in kelp forests by diving to the bottom of a body of water to grab morsels of food and rocks that they can use as tools. The study stated that they then bring their food and rocks to the surface of the water, float on their backs, and use their stomach as a table to open and eat their snacks. 

“Their preferred prey are usually urchins and abalone,” says Chris Law, a biologist at the University of Texas and the University of Washington involved in the study. 

Law stated that urchins and abalones are a part of sea otters diets and are typically easy for them to break apart and open. 

“Unfortunately, all those prey items have been declining or have declined,” especially in highly populated areas like Monterey Bay, says Law.

A big part of a sea urchin’s diet is kelp, and they can consume a lot at a relatively quick rate. When large groups of urchins go through a kelp forest, they can completely decimate it, which can in turn make the urchins “calorie-poor” with little nutritional value for the otters that consume them. 

“So that means otters have to eat alternative foods. A lot of those alternative foods are those super-hard-shell prey items that really require some kind of external force to break into,” said Law. 

Law added that “snails are abundant in the bay, but they’re low-calorie and basically like a rock that you have to break into to eat the insides.”

Law and his colleagues looked at data from 196 otters in Monterey Bay. They tagged the otters, and volunteers involved in the study monitored the marine mammals closely to see what they were eating, how large and tough their prey is, and if the otter utilized a tool to eat it. 

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According to the report, otters who used tools were able to eat larger prey. Female otters’ use of tools is important for their overall nutrition because they’re smaller than males and don’t have the ability to bite down as hard.  

“They [female otters] typically wouldn’t be able to break into harder prey. But they use tools more than males, so they’re able to gain access to these novel sources of food items,” said Law. 

The use of tools also work to protect otters’ dental health. The otters monitored in the study received dental assessments as well, and the researchers found that those who used tools had less damage to their teeth than those who didn’t use tools, because they just bite down on the hard shells to break them open. 

“Without their teeth, they clearly can’t eat anything. So then they die. What we’re suggesting is that this behavior really allowed them to continue living on despite not having their preferred prey.”

“This is such an important paper,” says Rob Shumaker, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo and one of the authors of a book called Animal Tool Behavior.

According to NPR, he said “scientists have spent decades documenting tool use in dozens of species; tool use in sea otters, for example, has been recognized since the 1960s. But now, studies like this one are showing that this field of research is starting to shift.”

“It’s not about describing the actual tool use or tool manufacture anymore. It’s describing the impact that it has on that animal’s life.”

bee

Climate Change Causing Bumblebee Nests To Overheat To Fatal Levels, According To New Study 

As global temperatures rise as a result of climate change, bumblebee nests are overheating and killing off large groups of bees, causing major concern over the future of one of Earth’s most essential pollinators. 

The recent research comes from a paper that was published in Frontiers in Bee Science, which stated that global heating is causing “many species of Bombus, or bumblebee,” to decline. The research emphasized that bumblebee colonies are known for their thermoregulation, which is when worker bees gather and use their wings to fan the hive in hot conditions to cool them off. 

As the climate crisis continues to intensify globally, the earth is experiencing more intense heat waves which is causing bumblebees to struggle to keep their homes habitable. 

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The paper stated that most bumblebee broods cannot survive temperatures above 36 degrees Celsius. For the research, the team reviewed 180 years of literature to make their conclusions. They found that for all bumblebee species, the ideal temperature for incubating nests was between 28 and 32 degrees Celsius. 

The lead author of the study, Peter Kevan, recently spoke to the Guardian about the reports findings and the risks bumblebee populations are now facing. 

“If [bumblebees] can’t keep temperatures below what is probably a lethal limit of about 35C, when the brood may die, that could explain why we are losing so many bumblebees around the world, especially in North America and Europe.”

Kevan also told the publication that the bumblebee’s nest is “often-overlooked” for its role as a “superorganism.”

“Researchers have been looking at foraging behavior and fanning to keep the brood cool, but there are very few studies that look at the whole nest,” he said. 

One of the biggest arguments that the study tried to make was that nests should be seen as a whole entity. While some of the bees may be able to handle the increase in temperature, if the nest itself becomes too hot to raise healthy offspring, the entire colony will decline. 

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“We have known for a long time that bumblebees are cool-climate specialists. Most insects are more abundant in the tropics, but bumblebees are weird in that they are at their most abundant in places like the Alps and Britain,” said Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex, who was not involved in the research.  

“There are even some that live in the Arctic, the Bombus polaris. That means an obvious problem with climate change – they are vulnerable to warming… if the air outside is too hot, that’s not going to help,” he stated

Goulson stated that there is current evidence that shows bumblebees are already moving away from warmer climates: “There have been publications showing mountain bumblebees are moving higher as a way to combat warming, but obviously there is a limit to that.”

“It is kind of heartbreaking to think that many may disappear.”

Bumblebees are an essential part of our world’s ecosystem. They pollinate wild flowers and crops which in turn feeds other animals and the cycle continues. 

“For other pollinators, the outlook under a hotter climate is less clear. Some bee species can cope with warmer temperatures, and some species that now live farther south may move north as temperatures rise, making a new home in the UK. With other pollinators, such as flies, wasps, butterflies, birds and bats, it’s hard to generalize,” Goulson said. 

space

Japan Is Combatting The Space Debris Problem 

A satellite being operated by Japanese company Astroscale has successfully located a 15-year-old piece of space junk and has been able to capture an image of it. 

The piece of space junk itself has been identified as a discarded rocket segment that is measured to be about 36 feet by 15 feet with an estimated mass of three tons. This marks the first time a space agency has been able to get so close to such a large piece of space debris. 

Astroscale is also working on developing a business model that would offer to remove space debris from Earth’s orbit. However, the current mission is to test out the satellite’s sensors to get a better idea of what kind of software they will need to safely carry out these operations. 

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The firm has stated that they’re hoping to start actively pulling space debris out of our orbit within the next couple of years. Space junk and sustainable use of space has been an ongoing discussion for some years now. 

Since the beginning of the space age in 1957, millions of pieces of space junk have accumulated in the atmosphere. The debris itself ranges from flecks of paint to fully abandoned rockets, like the one Astroscale was able to take a picture of. 

Space debris in general poses a major risk to other active and functioning satellites that we use to communicate and monitor the planet. The one discovered from Astroscale is a major hazard due to its large size. 

“The one in the new image came from Japan’s H-IIA launch vehicle, which lofted a CO2-measuring spacecraft called Gosat, in 2009. The upper-section of the rocket ejected Gosat at an altitude of roughly 600km. 

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But whereas more modern rockets make sure all their parts come back down to Earth soon after a flight, this H-IIA stage stayed up there. And it’s far from being alone,” according to Jonathan Amos for the BBC

According to the European Space Agency, 2,220 rocket bodies exist in orbit today. Astroscale is calling its current mission Adras-J, or Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan. 

The current plan is to spend the next few weeks taking more images and gathering information on the rocket segment, specifically the condition of the structure, its spin rate, and its spin axis. Adras-J will try to fully fly around the rocket body

“The activity will involve firing thrusters at the body in a direction opposite to its spin motion. The pressure of the thrusters’ plume ought to decelerate the rotation rate,” wrote Amos. 

“A number of companies around the world are developing technologies similar to Astroscale. Experts say that to prevent a cascade of collisions in orbit, it’s imperative space-faring nations start removing several large pieces of junk every year.”

kids

Children Who Are Considered Obese Are Twice As Likely To Develop Multiple Sclerosis, According To New Study

Children who are considered obese could face more than double the risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) as adults, according to a new study from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. 

MS can impact the brain and spinal cord. It causes a range of potential symptoms such as problems with arm or leg movement, sensation, balance, or vision. MS can also lead to serious disability throughout one’s life. 

The Karolinska Institute will be presenting the findings of their study at the European Congress on Obesity in May in Venice. 

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Previous research has speculated that there is a link between high body mass index (BMI) in adolescence and a larger risk of MS in adulthood, however, most of the studies that suggested this were using self-reported data, so it was difficult to arrive at an accurate conclusion. 

With this particular study, the researchers wanted to evaluate the risk of developing MS by utilizing a large population of obese children to compare with the general population.

According to reports from the Guardian, researchers analyzed data from the Swedish Childhood Obesity Treatment Register, which utilizes a database known as Boris. This institute is one of the world’s largest registries for treatment of childhood obesity.

The study looked at data from more than 21,600 children with obesity aged two to 19 who joined the registry between 1995 and 2020. The children, on average, started their treatment for obesity when they were around 11-years-old. They also compared that data to more than 100,000 children without obesity to get the greatest comparison possible. 

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The children monitored in the study were tracked for about six years, and during the follow-up period, 28 of those with obesity were diagnosed with MS (0.13% of the group) and 58 in the group without obesity (0.06% of the group). 

Within both groups, the average age of the MS diagnosis was 23-years-old. 

“Despite the limited follow-up time, our findings highlight that obesity in childhood increases the susceptibility of early-onset MS more than twofold,” the authors stated. 

“One of the effects of obesity in childhood is that it causes a low-grade but chronic inflammation, and most probably this inflammation increases the risk to develop several diseases such as MS,” study authors, Emilia Hagman, an associate professor, and Prof Claude Marcus, said.

“It is also believed that chronic low-grade inflammation increases the risk for other such diseases as asthma, arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and some forms of cancers. However, we know that weight loss reduces the inflammation and most likely the risk to develop such diseases.”

Scientists In The UK Working On A Bra That Can Detect And Monitor Breast Cancer 

Scientists in the UK are currently developing a device that would fit inside of a bra to monitor whether or not a breast cancer tumor is growing. 

The researchers behind the device are hoping that the device will ideally provide a new non-invasive method of detecting tumor growth so patients can get the information in their own home. 

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The device itself is being developed by Nottingham Trent University’s medical technologies innovation facility. According to the Guardian, the device will use an electrical current to “scan and detect tiny changes in fluids inside and outside cells in the breast.”

Tumor tissues are more dense than healthy tissue, and they contain less water. This is why the device will be able to measure changes in the growth of the tumor in real time, and can detect tumors as little as 2 millimeters. 

The researchers are also stating that the device could be inserted into a patient’s bra that they already own. Additionally, they’re developing a new bra that would have the device already incorporated into it. The device will be able to record and send data to the individual wearing it and their medical team via smartphone. 

Researchers are hoping to get the device in a clinical trial within the next few years. 

“The technology would measure changes in breast tissue and help improve a patient’s chance of survival. Breast cancer can grow so quickly; it could be 1mm in six months or 2mm in six weeks. This would be an additional measure to see how fast the tumor grows.” said Dr Yang Wei, an expert in electronic engineering at NTU. 

“We are opening the door to the investigation of an alternative breast cancer detection that could be done in the comfort of a patient’s home, conserving essential hospital resources whilst still providing a viable solution to detect early signs of cancer.”

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Cancer Research UK released data that showed there are more than 55,000 new cases of breast cancer in the UK alone every year, and more than 11,000 deaths. Of all those new cases, about 23% are completely preventable. 

The research team is hoping that the device will improve the vitals work of monitoring tumors. MRI scans in breast cancer patients can sometimes occur months apart from each other, which could lead to significant growth in the tumor itself. The device will ideally simplify this process and give the patient the opportunity to monitor their cancer themselves. 

Dr Simon Vincent, the director of research, said this “research on improved detection and treatment of breast cancer is urgently needed.”

“While this new technology could offer a new way to monitor the growth of breast cancer tumors and we look forward to seeing the final results, the device has not yet been tested on people and there’s a lot more we need to understand before we can consider whether or not it could be used in medical settings,” he said.

“Anyone affected by breast cancer can speak to Breast Cancer Now’s expert nurses by calling our free helpline on 0808 800 6000 for information and support.”

whale

Gray Whale Sighted Near New England 200 Years After Species Were Thought To Be Extinct In The Atlantic Ocean 

A gray whale has been confirmed by scientists to be seen near New England, two centuries after it was thought that the whale was extinct in the Atlantic Ocean. While this is an exciting discovery for science, experts are saying that it also illustrated the impact of climate change on sea life and their migration patterns. 

The gray whale was initially seen by members of the New England Aquarium in Boston while they were flying 30 miles south of Nantucket, Massachusetts. They sighted the whale, which can weigh up to 60,000 pounds, on March 1st, according to the Guardian

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The gray whale typically lives in the northern Pacific Ocean, and seemingly vanished from the Atlantic ocean around the 18th century. Within the last 15 years, there have been about five potential observations of the whole in the Atlantic and Mediterranean waters. 

The aquarium stated that the whale found this month was likely the same what that was spotted late last year in Florida. 

The aquarium researchers who recently found the whale near Massachusetts were skeptical after their initial observations, however, after circling the area for about 45 minutes, they were able to take more detailed pictures and confirm it was a gray whale. 

Orla O’Brien, an associate research scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, said that at first she “didn’t want to say out loud what it was, because it seemed crazy,” but was luckily proven to be right with ehr initial observations. 

While scientists are excited to see the gray whale in the Atlantic, they stated its presence likely has to do with the warming of the planet brought on by climate change. 

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The North-west Passage connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean in Canada. In recent years, during the summer the passage has lacked a presence of ice, which prevents animals like the gray whale from passing through. 

Now, scientists are predicting that gray whales are able to travel through the passage during the summer months, when they otherwise would typically be blocked from ice. 

According to O’Brien, the gray whale’s recent sighting near New England is “a reminder of how quickly marine species respond to climate change, given the chance.”

When commercial whaling was more common, gray whales were almost hunted to extinction. Luckily today, the gray whale population has recovered immensely, so much so that they’re considered to be a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.” 

The organization also stated that the western population of gray whales that lives off Asia is still considered to be endangered. 

When compared to other, more commonly sighted, whales off the coast of New England, such as humpback whales, gray whales can be identified by their lack of dorsal fin and marks of spots or smears of color. Gray whales also make more gurgling, grunting, croaking noises, while humpback whales are known for their more haunting high pitched songs. 

saturn

Astronomers Uncover Secret Ocean On One Of Saturn’s Smallest Moons 

Astronomers have uncovered increasing evidence that one of Saturn’s smallest moons, named Mimas, has a global ocean beneath its icy surface. This is a significant revelation in the overall search for water on other planets, as water is an essential building block for all life, further fueling the potential for discovering habitable worlds in deep space. 

Scientists used to think Mimas was just a big ice chunk before NASA went on their Cassini mission orbiting Saturn, and its 146 moons, from 2004 to 2017. 

Mimas was first discovered in 1789 by English astronomer William Herschel, and was first photographed in 1980 using the Voyager probes. Mimas is covered in craters, with the largest one being 80 miles across. 

Through the Cassini mission, astronomers found that the moon takes around 22 hours to orbit Saturn, and is about 115,000 miles from Saturn. Data also showed that Mimas’ rotation and orbital motion is triggered by the moon’s interior. 

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According to reports, in 2014 European researchers determined that the core of Mimas is either rigid, elongated, rocky, or has a subsurface ocean causing its rotation and motion. Observatoire de Paris astronomer Dr. Valéry Lainey and his colleagues analyzed the orbital motion data to get a clearer conclusion, and their findings were published Wednesday in the journal Nature

Through this study, the team was able to determine that the moon’s spin and orbital motion didn’t match up with the theory that Mimas had a rocky core, and instead, the evolution of its orbit suggests an internal ocean that shaped its motion, Lainey explained. 

“This discovery adds Mimas to an exclusive club of moons with internal oceans, including Enceladus and Europa, but with a unique difference: its ocean is remarkably young, estimated to be only 5 (million) to 15 million years old,” said study co author Dr. Nick Cooper.

The team was able to determine the origin and age of Mimas’ ocean by analyzing how the moon responded to Saturn’s gravitational forces. 

“Internal heating must come from the tides raised by Saturn on Mimas. These tidal effects have induced friction inside the satellite, providing heat,” Lainey said. 

The study stated that they suspect the ocean is around 12 to 19 miles below the moon’s ice exterior. Astronomically speaking the ocean is very young, which means there wouldn’t be any outward signs of activity on the surface.

This discovery is a huge moment for science in general, as it could shift the ways in which astronomers think about moons in our solar system. 

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“If Mimas hides a global ocean, this means that liquid water could lie almost anywhere. We already have serious candidates for global oceans (on moons such as) Callisto, Dione and Triton,” Lainey said. 

“The existence of a recently formed liquid water ocean makes Mimas a prime candidate for study, for researchers investigating the origin of life,” Cooper said.

“It may be time to observe other seemingly quiet moons across the solar system that could be hiding conditions that can support life,” the study authors said.

“Lainey and colleagues’ findings will motivate a thorough examination of mid-sized icy moons throughout the Solar System,” wrote Drs. Matija Ćuk and Alyssa Rose Rhoden in an article that accompanied the study.

Rhoden has also written research about a “stealth” ocean on Mimas.

“Basically, the difference between our 2022 paper and this new paper is that we found an ocean could not be ruled out by Mimas’ geology, whereas they are actually detecting the signature of the ocean within Mimas’ orbit. It is the strongest evidence we have, so far, that Mimas really does have an ocean today,” Rhoden said.

“Mimas certainly demonstrates that moons with old surfaces can be hiding young oceans, which is pretty exciting. I do think we can speculate as to moons having developed oceans much more recently than we often assume,” Rhoden said.