There may be liquid water under the crusts of Uranus’s moons, according to a new NASA study

Liquid water under the surface of the moons of Uranus, this could be the conclusion reached by NASA researchers after reanalyzing data from the Voyager 2 probe. The findings were published in a study called “Compositions and Structures Interiors of the Large Moons of Uranus and Implications for Future Spacecraft Observations” in the journal JGR Planets. The idea that the waterfall is a substance exceptionally rare in the Universe is a widespread belief, but so much wrong: in reality, in our Solar System and in interstellar space, water is a very common substance. Of course, therein lies the catch: we are talking about solid water (ie ice) e gaseous water (therefore molecules diffused in space or in planetary atmospheres): what is really rare is the water of the liquid state, that is. , in those precise conditions of temperature and pressure that allow it to provide an environment in which life can originate and thrive, at least in theory.

Where is water found in the Solar System? However, even speaking of liquid water, we know that there are places in the Solar System where we can find it: obviously on Earth, where it covers 70% of the planet’s surface, forms the polar caps and glaciers, and gives rise to the hydrological cycle of oceans, clouds, rains and rivers. But, in all likelihood, there are also oceans of liquid water below the surface of some. natural satellites of the gas giants of the outer Solar System: these are some Jupiter moons such as Europa, Ganymede and Callisto and some Saturn moons such as Enceladus, Titan and perhaps Mimas. Now Uranus also joins the group of planets whose moons have layers of liquid water below the surface. Uranus, the seventh planet in the Solar System, the first discovered in modern times, was first identified by British scientist William Herschel in 1781 (and almost ended up calling himself “George” after the English king). Around it orbit at least 27 moons that take their us from the characters in the works of William Shakespeare (and some of the works of Alexander Pope). Although it has been the subject of many observations with telescopes (some including with the Hubble and Jaime Webb space telescopes), Uranus has to date been closely observed by only one space probe, Voyager 2 during a flyby in 1986.

The water on the moons of Uranus

The moons in question are of significant size, smaller than ours. lunabut larger than Ceresone of the dwarf planets that orbit the Sun. Its interior is believed to be composed of an ice crust hundreds of kilometers thick and a rocky core inside.

The study suggests that between these two components there is a layer of liquid water, often 30 to 50 kilometers. The research team, led by Julie Castillo-Rogez of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, sought to piece together the story of how the interiors of these moons evolved over time, from their formation to today. To keep the layer of liquid water above freezing, there must be a source of heat: this is probably due to the decay of radioactive atoms in the rocky core of the moons (as is also partly the case on Earth within of our planet), especially considering that the heat generated by gravitational forces from Uranus is very small (unlike Jupiter, whose gravitational forces can significantly heat its Galilean moon

The importance of studying the oceans of Uranus The research team used mathematical modeling to estimate how porous the surface of Uranus’s moons is, finding that they are likely thermally insulated enough to retain within them the heat needed to support an ocean of liquid water at the interface between the ice crust. and the rock core. But internal heating may not be the only reason for the existence of an ocean of liquid water: the presence of chlorides and dissolved ammonia in water could, in fact, work from “antifreeze” causing it to remain liquid even below its natural freezing point. “When it comes to smaller bodies, like dwarf planets and giant moons, planetary scientists have in the past found evidence of subterranean oceans in unlikely places,” Castillo-Rogez said in an interview. “So there are mechanisms at play that we don’t fully understand. This study tries to understand what these mechanisms might be and how important they might be for the many Solar System bodies that might be cascading rich but have a limited supply of internal heat.”