A review of 30-year-old data from the Voyager 2 spacecraft revealed wavy motifs in two of Uranus’s faint system of rings; patterns that could be an indication of two hidden moons, according to a new report.
Just like the other gas giants in our solar system, Uranus has a ring system, although it pales in comparison to the one around Saturn. Also like the other gas giants, Uranus has a bunch of satellites circling it.
The new study, based on information compiled by Voyager 2 during its historic 1986 Uranus flyby, shows signs of two undiscovered moons loitering around a couple of Uranus’ rings. Confirmation of two more moons would bring the total moons around the planet up to 29.
While reviewing the old data, scientists found wavy patterns that typically indicate the presence of tiny moons.
“These patterns may be wakes from small moonlets orbiting exterior to these rings,” the researchers said in their report.
Finding New Moons
The observations of wavy patterns are consistent with the effects seen from Uranus’ other moons, like Cordelia and Ophelia. The moons’ gravitational strain on the dust, rocks, and ice inside the rings, herds particles along a narrow formation and can disrupt the rings, creating waves.
If these moons are present, they’re very dark and relatively small, measuring only 2 to 9 miles wide, which would be smaller than any other known natural satellite. Such a small size would explain why Voyager 2 wasn’t capable of identifying them directly.
Equipped with this possibility, the scientists are intending to look at Uranus with the Hubble Space Telescope. If that didn’t turn up any new moons, a future probe could investigate.
Signs of two moons hiding out around Uranus come just one week after a different group of researchers announced the discovery of a dwarf planet located at the outermost reaches of the Solar System. The object currently referred to as 2014 UZ224 takes 1,100 years to finish a single orbit of the Sun. Soon, it could officially join Pluto, Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake — the Solar Systems’ other dwarf planets.
Scientists have said there could be 100 more dwarf planets sitting out in the distant Kuiper Belt, which circles the Solar System.
Image credit: Thinkstock
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