Written by Bryce Getchell | @Porkfryedbryce
It is amazing to think that it has been 30 years since NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Uranus and we are still making new discoveries from the data that was gathered from its flyby. One of the most recent discoveries may indicate that there are 2 moons of Uranus that have yet to be discovered.
University of Idaho researchers Rob Chancia and Matt Hedman are currently leading a study on these two possible moonlets which could be lurking near the planet’s rings. Both Chancia and Hedman have a good amount of knowledge regarding the behavior and physics of planetary rings, so it is no surprise that Chancia noticed something rather unusual while examining old photos that had been taken during the Uranus flyby back in 1986.
Upon closer examination, Chancia noticed key patterns across the icy rings of Uranus. At the edge of the alpha ring, the amount of ring material varied periodically. This prompted Chancia to examine the rest of Uranus’s multiple rings. It was on the planet’s beta ring that he found another example of these patterns. In both cases, there is a disturbance in the wavelength of the rings.
This disturbance reminded the researchers of a similar situation a while back where patterns in the rings of Saturn were caused by moon-related structures.
“We haven’t seen the moons yet, but the idea is the size of the moon’s needed to make these features is quite small, and they could have easily been missed,” Hedman explained. “The Voyager images weren’t sensitive enough to easily see these moons.”
The size of the moonlets are unknown at this time, however both researchers estimate them to be around 4 to 14 kilometers in diameter. At this time, Hedman and Chancia will be continuing their research and publishing their results in The Astronomical Journal.