New scrutiny of Uranus’ largest moons suggest the bodies may contain ocean layers that could be dozens of miles deep.
Uranus has at least 27 moons, which are cold and icy like their host planet. A recent study looked at the planet’s largest moons: Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, Oberon, and Miranda (Uniquely, Uranus has moons named after characters created by Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.)
The researchers found that four of those moons may be large enough to retain internal heat, turning their would-be-solid insides into wet environments. Their study is published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
“When it comes to small bodies – dwarf planets and moons – planetary scientists previously have found evidence of oceans in several unlikely places, including the dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto, and Saturn’s moon Mimas,” said Julie Castillo-Rogez, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a JPL release. “There are mechanisms at play that we don’t fully understand.”
In the recent study, Castillo-Rogez’s team reviewed data on Uranus taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft, as well as from ground-based observations and findings made by NASA’s Galileo, Cassini, Dawn, and New Horizons missions. They used that data in conjunction with models built to interpret the porosity of the Uranian moons and their potential for heat retention.
While four of the five largest moons appeared to be capable of retaining enough heat to create internal oceans, Miranda, the smallest of the five, appeared to lose heat too quickly. The team found the moons—especially Titania and Oberon—may harbor rocky mantles at the core, which could warm the ocean layers.
Besides the moons’ internal heat, the researchers found that chlorides and ammonia are likely present in these oceans. The substances could act as an antifreeze, keeping the oceans liquid.
Uranus has recently been ogled by several space telescopes, shedding new light on the distant world. Recent imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope showcased a massive white splotch on Uranus, indicating that an ice cap topping the planet may be increasing in size. Just last month, the Webb Space Telescope revealed the gorgeous, dusty rings encircling the planet.
Uranus’ odd tilt, rings, and many moons are just a few of the reasons planetary scientists are keen to send a mission to the planet, which is nearly 2 billion miles from us.
More observations from afar could improve scientists’ understanding of the planet and its moons, but a closeu mission would be even better. Though, first, NASA will have to get its budget in order.