May 30, 2023

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Have two new oceans been discovered in our solar system?

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“Water is life”: This statement is a bit simplistic, but it is nonetheless true that liquid water appears to be a necessity for the emergence of life, and is therefore a good first clue as to where to look. However, liquid water appears to be much less rare than we thought, even within our own solar system.

In the news: Two moons of Uranus could have a subsurface liquid ocean.

We know the seventh planet in our solar system, Uranus, rather poorly. Consisting largely of water, ammonia and solid methane, this giant ice was only seen up close once, by the Voyager 2 probe in 1986. But we haven’t finished studying the radiological and magnetic data provided by the probe. It was collected before leaving our solar system.

There are at least 27 moons around Uranus. However, carefully examined Voyager 2 data show strange emissions of strongly charged plasma particles in the planet’s orbit. They appear to emanate from some of their moons, and the likely source of such magnetism — which has also been observed around Saturn and Jupiter — is a liquid ocean beneath the surface of some of the moons.

Ariel and Miranda

a New study On this subject he refers in particular to two moons: Ariel and Miranda. “It is not unusual for measurements of energetic particles to lead to discovery of the ocean world,” said Ian Cohen, lead author of the study, in a press release. “What’s interesting is that these particles were very limited near the magnetic equator of Uranus. Particularly between the moons Ariel and Miranda, which makes them even more suspicious than their myriad sisters.

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It is true that in recent years the confirmed or suspected existence of countless oceans beneath the surface of icy bodies has completely changed our view of our solar system. Liquid water is a prerequisite (but not sufficient) for the evolution of a primitive form of life. Thus, each of these bodies where there is such an ocean could also host a potential ecosystem.

It’s time to examine Uranus more closely

It was the last mission to the icy planet nearly 40 years ago, and the Voyager 2 probe has had other missions to complete. Some planetary scientists think it’s time to launch another exploration mission for this distant celestial body.

NASA does not have the budget to study all the planets in the solar system in detail. A reconnaissance mission to Uranus, at a cost of $4.2 billion, is one option. But there are other options, too, like Venus, Earth’s much closer, hellish twin sister.

Such a mission to Uranus, if approved, could not be launched before the early 2030s.