MOSCOW, Idaho -- Researchers at the University of Idaho says Uranus may have tiny, undiscovered moons.
Uranus currently has 27 known moons, but researchers believe they found signs of “moonlet wakes” in the planet’s outer rings. This could point to two tiny, undiscovered moons orbiting close to the gaseous planet.
Rob Chancia, a doctoral student in the UI College of Science Department of Physics, spotted the patterns while examining decades-old data on Uranus’ rings obtained by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986. Chancia and Matt Hedman, an assistant professor of physics, will be publishing their results in the Astronomical Journal.
Chancia and Hedman said if the moons exist, they are probably less than nine miles in diameter. They said Uranian moons are hard to spot because they are made of a mix of frozen water and unknown other materials that give them little brightness.
Confirming whether or not the moonlets actually exist using telescope or spacecraft images will be left to other researchers, Chancia and Hedman said. They said they will continue to examine patterns and structures in Uranus’ rings, helping uncover more of the planet’s many secrets.