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Two New Moons Could be Hiding Between Uranus' Rings

Oct 20, 2016 03:57 AM EDT
Ripples in Uranus' Alpha and Beta rings suggests the existence of two new moons.
(Photo : NASA/JPL/Wikimedia Commons)

Astronomers reexamining data from Voyager 2 has observed evidence indicating the existence of two tiny, never-before-seen moons lurking within the dark rings of Uranus.

Their observations, published in the Astronomical Journal, revealed a wavy pattern in two of Uranus' rings, Alpha and Beta. The astronomers suggest that these quasi-periodic optical depth variations may have caused by two undiscovered moonlets orbiting the giant gas planets.

According to the report from Smithsonian, this is not the first time that astronomers observed wavy patterns in the rings of Uranus, Previously, astronomers observed similar ripples in the rings of Uranus caused by two of the planet's other moons, Cordelia and Ophelia. The gravitational pull of the moons are forcing dust particles into narrow rings, forming the wavy pattern.

In a report from New Scientists, Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California commented that the two tiny moons are certainly very plausible. Showalter has discovered moons around Saturn, Neptune and Pluto. He is also responsible for the discovery of several rings and two new moons, named Mab and Cupid, of Uranus in 2005.

Astronomers believe that if the two new moons in Uranus exist, it will be very small, between 2.5 and 8.5 miles across. Due to their size, astronomers believe that the cameras mounted at Voyager 2 are not powerful enough to pick them up. The dark color of the rings and most of the other existing moons of Uranus suggests that the new satellites are also dark in color.

The next thing to do is confirm the existence of the two new moons by examining observations of Uranus conducted by the Hubble Space Telescope. If by chance the data sent back by Hubble is still inconclusive, the best bet for finding out the existence of the planet is sending Uranus' very first orbiter.

The wavy pattern in the Alpha and Beta rings of Uranus was observed by planetary scientists Rob Chancia and Matthew Hedman when they are reexamining data gathered by Voyager 2 during its flyby in the planet in 1986. During its flyby, Voyager 2 detected 10 previously undiscovered planets. At present, the total number of moons in Uranus stands at 27.

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