Two New Moons Possibly Discovered Orbiting Uranus

Much like the other gas giants, the planet Uranus is home to many moons. Though it trails Jupiter and Saturn by a wide margin, Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, currently has 27 known satellites, which is the third-highest total in the solar system. It may be about to add two more moons to its total as well.

According to Ken Croswell of the New Scientist, researchers have taken another look at data the Voyager 2 spacecraft collected on Uranus all the way back in 1986. Invisible to the unaided eye and over a billion miles away, Voyager 2 is the only mission that has ever gotten a close-up look at the seventh planet. According to Jason Daley of the Smithsonian, the mission originally found 10 of Uranus’ previously-undetected moons.

Now, three decades later, it has been reported that there is evidence to support the possible existence of two more very tiny, previously-unknown moons orbiting Uranus. If they are real, the moons are not only thought to be very diminutive in size, but orbit closer to the planet than its other known satellites.

The research was conducted by Rob Chancia and Matthew Hedman of the University of Idaho in Moscow. Their findings can be read at arXiv.org.

Though not nearly as brilliant as Saturn’s, Uranus is a ringed planet as well, and it has a total of 13 rings. Chancia and Hedman detected a wavy pattern in two of Uranus’ rings, the Alpha and Beta, and it is thought that the source of these ripples may be the new pair of moons. In earlier works, scientists have studied how two of Uranus’ other moons, Cordelia and Ophelia, have had a similar effect on Uranus’ rings.

“The gravity of these two moons and the couple other dozen orbs zipping around the planet, force the space dust and particles into narrow rings,” Daley’s article on the Smithsonian reads.

If they are indeed there, hiding out near Uranus’ rings, the potential moons are thought to be between only two and nine miles across. Their small size may be one of the reasons that they have remained undetected up to this point. However, although very small when compared to other moons, Croswell points out that Saturn has at least four moons that are even tinier.

Uranus is unique in that it is tilted, which also makes its rings appear sideways. Its vertical, faint rings have also been described as “dark and narrow.” According to Croswell, they were first discovered in 1977. Like the rings and many of the planet’s other moons, the potential new moons are believed to be dark as well.

“Not only are Uranus’s rings dark, so are most of the little satellites that are in that region,” Hedman says to Croswell in the New Scientist article.

Although yet to be confirmed, some appear to be excited and enthusiastic about the odds of them being real. The two moons’ existence is “certainly a very plausible possibility,” Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute says in Croswell’s article.

Showalter also says that using the Hubble Space Telescope is “the best bet” to detect and confirm the existence of the two moons. Croswell reports that Showalter plans to look at data on Uranus from the Hubble in the months ahead.

Uranus’ other satellites may not be as well-known as those that orbit planets a bit closer to Earth, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus, but they are still quite interesting. One of its moons, Miranda, houses Verona Rupes, which is known for being the tallest cliff in the solar system. It is almost 33,000 feet tall, per NASA.

When it comes to small objects in the solar system, there have been a couple of other interesting discoveries as of late as well. In September, an ice volcano was found on the dwarf planet Ceres, and a new dwarf planet was discovered by researchers at the University of Michigan last week.

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