Uranus Shocking Discovery: Astronomers Uncover Icy Planet’s Oddball Ring System

Uranus, the seventh planet in our solar system, has always been the odd one of the bunch. Often touted as a rear end even in academic circles (its name is just asking for it), the icy giant is essentially a planet that rotates while lying on its side. It’s also so incredibly dense that it would float on water, that is, if you find a bucket big enough to fit it in, and that’s to take into account the numerous rings it has around it.

Speaking of those rings, scientists have recently discovered that they’re a weird bunch as well. A new set of images of the ringed planet have been released, giving researchers brand new insights into the bits and pieces that make up the 13-ring system.

This means that we now know that epsilon, the densest and brightest of the pack, is pretty cold for human standards. It’s now known to have a temperature of 77 Kelvin or minus 96 Celsius. For comparison, the coldest known temperature on Earth, recorded on an icy ridge in Antarctica, only went down to about minus 93 Celsius.

Scientists also found that there are icy particles inside each ring that give off a small amount of heat in the form of infrared radiation. This creates a light-up composite image. To do this, the scientists looked at the planet’s rings through the Very Large Telescope and Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), both located in Chile.

"Saturn's mainly icy rings are broad, bright and have a range of particle sizes, from micron-sized dust in the innermost D ring, to tens of meters in size in the main rings," said Imke de Pater, a UC Berkeley professor of astronomy. "The small end is missing in the main rings of Uranus; the brightest ring, epsilon, is composed of golf ball-sized and larger rocks."

This is particularly strange, considering the amount of sunlight these rings get, even from such a distance. The researchers are now hoping that these new images will shed more light on the icy planet’s ring system, why they are the way they are, and if each came from different sources.

solar system As the Sun ages, scientists predict it may soon run out of fuel and start to expand. Pixabay