Scientists view the warm glow of Uranus’ rings

Shane McGlaun - Jun 24, 2019, 8:56 am CDT
Scientists view the warm glow of Uranus’ rings

When we think of ringed planets in our solar system, Saturn comes to mind for most, and that’s it. Saturn isn’t the only planet that has rings in our solar system, Neptune has rings, and Uranus also has rings. The catch with Uranus is that is rings are so faint that they can only be seen by the largest telescopes on the planet.

Their difficult to see nature meant that Uranus’ rings were undiscovered until 1977. Scientist have taken new heat images of Uranus using telescopes in Chile. The rings reflect only a little light in the visible range and the near-infrared range. The new photos were taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMS) and the Very Large Telescope (VLT).

The measurements allowed the team for the first time to measure the temperature of the rings. The temperature was 77 degrees above absolute zero, which is equivalent to 320 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The brightest and most dense ring of Uranus called the Epsilon ring is different from other known ring systems in our solar system.

Scientists point out that while Saturn’s rings are mainly ice and have a broad range of particle sizes, Uranus’ Epsilon ring is made up of golf-ball size and larger rocks. The lack of smaller objects is what sets Uranus’ rings apart from other ring systems. Researchers say that either something is sweeping the smaller particles out or, the smaller particles are coalescing into larger particles.

The team notes that Uranus’ rings are very dark, like charcoal, and are very narrow compared to Saturn’s rings. Epsilon ring is the widest and is only 20 to 100 km wide compared to Saturn’s rings that are 100s or tens of thousands of km wide. The lack of dust-size particles in the rings of Uranus was first noted when Voyager 2 flew by.

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