The moons of Uranus hide a great mystery.  I don’t think anyone expected this

The only space probe to approach both planets briefly was Voyager 2, which was launched from Earth in 1977. It came within 81,558 km of Uranus on January 24, 1986. A little more than three years later, on August 25, 1989, Voyager flew by 2 is 4,500 km from the Neptune cloud tops. Since then, no space probe has repeated its feat. For more than thirty years, mankind has been limited only to observing the planets using both ground-based and space-based telescopes.

The moons of Uranus hide a great mystery

Nearly forty years after the historic flyby, scientists are still analyzing data collected by all of the instruments that Voyager 2 was equipped with. in recent months The researchers noticed strange structures In radiation data near two of Uranus’s moons.

Ariel and Miranda are names that never appear when talking about the moons in our solar system. However, the latest analysis of Voyager data indicates that even the five largest moons of Uranus may have oceans of liquid water under their icy crusts, similar to those likely found in the interior of Europa (Jupiter’s moon) and Enceladus (a). moon of Saturn). If this can indeed be confirmed, it will be necessary to revise our approach to the search for life in the universe.

A depiction of the surface of Enceladus, from which geysers gush from the subterranean ocean. Source: NASA

Until recently, scientists were limited to looking for Earth-like planets at such a distance from the Sun that liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface. Research on Europa and Enceladus has shown that there may be much more space in the solar system for life similar to that we know from the surface of our planet. Although it is too cold in the vicinity of Jupiter or Saturn for the presence of liquid water on the surface of the moons, their hot interiors hide oceans of liquid water, in which conditions for the emergence of life are likely. Furthermore, the researchers suggest that there may be twice as much water within Europe as there is on Earth’s surface. If it now turns out that one or more of Uranus’ moons have oceans in them, it turns out that the sun’s habitable zone may actually be the entire solar system.

What did Voyager 2 see near Uranus?

Data recorded by magnetometers and antennas analyzed by the researchers suggests that one or two moons (Uranus has as many as 27) are the source of plasma particles in the planet’s moon system. Voyager 2 detected these particles in the planet’s magnetic field as it was moving away from it. It must be emphasized here that it is not yet known how these satellites emit plasma. However, the researchers speculate that the moons may have oceans beneath their icy crusts, from which material is sometimes ejected through cracks in the surface. Such strange geysers have been observed by space probes on both Europa and Enceladus. Cassini even flew through a plume of steam billowing from Enceladus’ south pole near the end of its mission. Interestingly, these two moons were also the first to indicate the possibility of inner oceans with magnetometer data and observed energy particles.

Questions about the existence of oceans inside Ariel or Miranda will remain unanswered for many years to come. However, this does not change the fact that scientists now have reason to push for a space mission that could fly to the penultimate planet of the solar system and thoroughly explore both globes. However, it should be noted that even if such a mission is approved in the next few years, it will only be launched in the 2030s and it will take more than ten years to reach its destination. With a good wind, we can thus find out what is hidden under the ice crust of both spheres around the middle of the century. Well, nothing teaches patience like space exploration.

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