Is there life near Uranus? The large moons of this gas giant appear to hide oceans miles deep

The researchers came to this conclusion after looking again at data collected by the Voyager 2 space probe about the moons in the 1980s.

Researchers recently came to the conclusion that it’s time to take a closer look at the planet Uranus and its moons. But supposing we actually send a probe to this planet in the short term, what kind of instruments should we give it? To answer this question, we must be able to predict what we will find there. And in the sheet Journal of Geophysical Research Scientists are now making an interesting contribution in this regard. They state that at least four of Uranus’ large moons may have a subsurface ocean. These are Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon. These satellites have a diameter of 1,160 to 1,580 kilometers.

Thanks to Voyager 2
The researchers based their conclusion on a new analysis of data collected decades ago by the Voyager 2 space probe during its flyby of Uranus. In addition, they also used observations made from the surface of Uranus and examined the results of the Galileo, Cassini, Dawn and New Horizons space probes (each of which discovered subsurface oceans on other worlds). Based on all this information, they made computer models, which they then used to determine how far the surfaces of Uranus’ largest moons had been penetrated.

Models reveal that the icy surface of these moons likely has little porosity, acting as an insulating layer that prevents heat from escaping from the moons interior. This way it is warm enough internally to accommodate the surroundings. In addition, they found a potential heat source in the moons’ rocky mantle, which releases hot liquid, allowing the oceans to trap more heat. It is possible that large moons such as Titania and Oberon have subterranean oceans warm enough for extraterrestrial life.

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New models of the four largest moons of Uranus. Only Miranda (right) does not appear to have a liquid ocean beneath its surface.

Miranda lies on the side of the road
Miranda – the fifth largest moon of Uranus – is unfortunately falling by the wayside. Miranda is one of the more unusual moons in our solar system and it looks a little untrue. The moon may have been shattered during a collision with another celestial body, after which the debris was collected to form Miranda. Also noteworthy are the giant canyons on the Moon: some of them are twelve times deeper than the Grand Canyon. This moon has a diameter of 470 kilometers and is too small to have an ocean. However, traces of geological activity can be seen on Miranda’s surface. This moon may have held water in the past, but now this ocean has frozen over.

Moon Frankenstein Miranda.

freezing in the oceans
Another important discovery is that chlorides – such as ammonia – are likely present in the oceans of the ice giant’s largest moon. Ammonia is an antifreeze and has a low freezing point. The salts in the water can also act as an anti-freeze, keeping the interior oceans on these natural satellites.

to the drawing board
Now scientists can design tools capable of mapping subterranean oceans. Now that it is plausible that ammonia and chlorides exist beneath the surface, it makes sense to extend the wavelength range of spectrometers to capture the light reflected from these compounds. Let’s hope a space agency announces a mission to Uranus in the near future and that we finally learn more about these alien worlds.

Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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