Uranus is one of the big mysteries of our solar system. And its planetary rings the more so. Not that there are a lot of certainties about anything when it comes to space. And it seems that the more we know, the less we understand.
So, why does Uranus have its poles east and west, and why does it rotate clockwise? Why do its rings have dust between them, and why don’t they have any dust at all? And why are they so narrow?
Things were easier when astronomers thought that Uranus’ axis of rotation is tilted sideways because another planet punched it and put it into the plane of its solar orbits side. At least they had an explanation.
But data from observing spacecraft, such as the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) and the Very Large Telescope (VLT), made scientists doubt the explanation. Now they have none that can be fully trusted. Precession is currently considered to be possible, but it isn’t sure.
Studying the mysteries surrounding the Uranus rings
Recently, astronomers started to look into the rings’ mystery. They found that the temperatures are of 77 degrees Kelvin, about -321 Fahrenheit, or -196.15 degrees Celsius. At least they can be sure they don’t call it the ice giant for anything.
But the composition is another matter. Epsilon is the brightest ring of Uranus. It is famous for being “a bit weird because we don’t see the smaller stuff,” like UC Berkeley graduate student Edward Molter puts it.
This means that epsilon is not made of dust as it should. And it should because its behaving neighbors, Jupiter and Neptune, have rings made of fine particles. But no, Uranus had to have rings made from rocks the size of a golf ball and no dust at all.
“Something has been sweeping the smaller stuff out, or it’s all glomming together. We just don’t know,” said Molter. Why does Uranus have to do everything the other way around? Just to mock us and remember us that we can’t be sure of any rule?