Uranus and Neptune aren’t made of what we thought, Astronomers Discover in a new study

Scientists previously believed that Uranus and Neptune contain massive amounts of frozen water. However, a recent study has it that these ice giants may likely have more tons of methane ice. The latest discovery would possibly help astronomers figure out how these planets were formed billions of years ago.

Currently, our researchers know little about these icy giant worlds as only one spacecraft, Voyager 2 flew past them in the 1980s. Scientists depend on the data provided by this single flight to update the world’s knowledge about these icy giant worlds. Based on the data provided from scientific observations of the ice giants, researchers suggest that the icy worlds contain some amounts of oxygen carbon, and hydrogen.

Astronomers created different models to actually determine the real composition of Uranus and Neptune. These models were built with matching physical properties to that of Voyager 2 and other ground-based telescopes that have observed icy worlds in the past. Some of these models predicted that the two planets come with a thin hydrogen and helium envelope.

These are an underlying layer of compressed, ammonia and superionic water, and a central rocky core. The excessive amount of water contained in the planets made scientists identify them as ice giants. In fact, some of these models suggest that Uranus and Neptune may contain about 50,000 times the quantity of water in our oceans on Earth.

What Scientists Discovered in the new study about Uranus and Neptune

Scientists who participated in the new study suggested that these old models never considered the method through which these ice giants were formed in the first place. According to the most acceptable theory, Uranus and Neptune formed from the dust cloud surrounding the infant sun, around 4.5 billion years ago.

The cloud of dust rapidly consumed objects called planetesimals during the formation process. In fact, the authors of the new study suggest that these planetesimals take a perfect look at recent comets like 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko which originate in the Kuiper Belt. The researchers suggest that these planetesimals are extremely rich in carbon and not water.

“So how is it possible to form an icy giant from ice-poor building blocks?” said Uri Malamud, the study’s lead author and a planetary scientist at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

Malamud and his colleagues built hundreds of thousands of models of Uranus’ and Neptune’s interiors to resolve the apparent paradox.

The algorithm that they used matched the suitable composition of the planets’ surfaces. It brilliantly extended its creativity way deeper into the central point of the planet. The astronomers took into consideration several chemicals such as water, iron, and methane, which are the main components of natural gas. They further tried to determine the best model that closely resembled the actual ice giant in radius and mass.

The team closely studied every model which they built and discovered that the ones with methane matched their criteria much better. This implies that methane forms a thick layer between the hydrogen-helium envelope and the water layer. Some of these models suggest that about 10% of the planet’s mass is made of methane. Hence, methane holds the key to finding solutions to the ice paradox.

The researchers published their findings which have not been peer-reviewed to the preprint server arXiv in March.

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