First heat images of the rings enable scientists to determine their temperature
The rings of Uranus are invisible to all but the largest telescopes -- they weren't even discovered until 1977 -- but they're surprisingly bright in new heat images of the planet taken by two large telescopes in the high deserts of Chile.
Composite image of Uranus's atmosphere and rings at radio wavelengths, taken with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in December 2017. The image shows thermal emission, or heat, from the rings of Uranus for the first time, enabling scientists to determine their temperature is a frigid 77 K (-320 F). Dark bands in Uranus's atmosphere at these wavelengths show the presence of radiolight-absorbing molecules, in particular hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas, whereas bright regions like the north polar spot contain very few of these molecules.
Credit: Edward M. Molter and Imke de Pater, UC Berkeley
Near-infrared image of Uranus ring system taken with the Adaptive Optics system on the 10-m Keck telescope in July 2004. This image, taken at 2.2 micron wavelength, shows the main ring system in reflected sunlight. This particular wavelength was chosen since Uranus itself is dark, since methane gas in its atmosphere absorbs most of the incoming sunlight, so that the relatively faint rings do stand out. In between the main rings, which are composed of cm-sized or larger-sized particles, sheets of dust can be discerned.
Imke de Pater, Seran Gibbard and Heidi Hammel, Icarus 180, 186-200 (2006)
The thermal glow gives astronomers another window onto the rings, which have been seen only because they reflect a little light in the visible, or optical, range and in the near-infrared.
The new images taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Very Large Telescope (VLT) allowed the team for the first time to measure the temperature of the rings: a cool 77 Kelvin, or 77 degrees above absolute zero -- the boiling temperature of liquid nitrogen and equivalent to 320 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
The observations also confirm that Uranus's brightest and densest ring, called the epsilon ring, differs from the other known ring systems within our solar system, in particular the spectacularly beautiful rings of Saturn.
"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."
By comparison, Jupiter's rings contain mostly small, micron-sized particles (a micron is a thousandth of a millimeter). Neptune's rings are also mostly dust, and even Uranus has broad sheets of dust between its narrow main rings.
"We already know that the epsilon ring is a bit weird, because we don't see the smaller stuff," said graduate student Edward Molter. "Something has been sweeping the smaller stuff out, or it's all glomming together. We just don't know. This is a step toward understanding their composition and whether all of the rings came from the same source material, or are different for each ring."
Rings could be former asteroids captured by the planet's gravity, remnants of moons that crashed into one another and shattered, the remains of moons torn apart when they got too close to Uranus, or debris remaining from the time of formation 4.5 billion years ago.
The new data were published this week in the Astronomical Journal. De Pater and Molter led the ALMA observations, while Michael Roman and Leigh Fletcher from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom led the VLT observations.
"The rings of Uranus are compositionally different from Saturn's main ring, in the sense that in optical and infrared, the albedo is much lower: they are really dark, like charcoal," Molter said. "They are also extremely narrow compared to the rings of Saturn. The widest, the epsilon ring, varies from 20 to 100 kilometers wide, whereas Saturn's are 100's or tens of thousands of kilometers wide."
The lack of dust-sized particles in Uranus's main rings was first noted when Voyager 2 flew by the planet in 1986 and photographed them. The spacecraft was unable to measure the temperature of the rings, however.
To date, astronomers have counted a total of 13 rings around the planet, with some bands of dust between the rings. The rings differ in other ways from those of Saturn.
"It's cool that we can even do this with the instruments we have," he said. "I was just trying to image the planet as best I could and I saw the rings. It was amazing."
Both the VLT and ALMA observations were designed to explore the temperature structure of Uranus' atmosphere, with VLT probing shorter wavelengths than ALMA.
"We were astonished to see the rings jump out clearly when we reduced the data for the first time," Fletcher said.
This presents an exciting opportunity for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, which will be able provide vastly improved spectroscopic constraints on the Uranian rings in the coming decade.
The Berkeley research was funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NNX16AK14G). Work at the University of Leicester was supported by the European Research Council (GIANTCLIMES) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (723890).
Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!
Heat flow through single molecules detected
19.07.2019 | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University
Better thermal conductivity by adjusting the arrangement of atoms
19.07.2019 | Universität Basel
Adjusting the thermal conductivity of materials is one of the challenges nanoscience is currently facing. Together with colleagues from the Netherlands and Spain, researchers from the University of Basel have shown that the atomic vibrations that determine heat generation in nanowires can be controlled through the arrangement of atoms alone. The scientists will publish the results shortly in the journal Nano Letters.
In the electronics and computer industry, components are becoming ever smaller and more powerful. However, there are problems with the heat generation. It is...
Scientists have visualised the electronic structure in a microelectronic device for the first time, opening up opportunities for finely-tuned high performance electronic devices.
Physicists from the University of Warwick and the University of Washington have developed a technique to measure the energy and momentum of electrons in...
Scientists at the University Würzburg and University Hospital of Würzburg found that megakaryocytes act as “bouncers” and thus modulate bone marrow niche properties and cell migration dynamics. The study was published in July in the Journal “Haematologica”.
Hematopoiesis is the process of forming blood cells, which occurs predominantly in the bone marrow. The bone marrow produces all types of blood cells: red...
For some phenomena in quantum many-body physics several competing theories exist. But which of them describes a quantum phenomenon best? A team of researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Harvard University in the United States has now successfully deployed artificial neural networks for image analysis of quantum systems.
Is that a dog or a cat? Such a classification is a prime example of machine learning: artificial neural networks can be trained to analyze images by looking...
An international research group led by scientists from the University of Bayreuth has produced a previously unknown material: Rhenium nitride pernitride. Thanks to combining properties that were previously considered incompatible, it looks set to become highly attractive for technological applications. Indeed, it is a super-hard metallic conductor that can withstand extremely high pressures like a diamond. A process now developed in Bayreuth opens up the possibility of producing rhenium nitride pernitride and other technologically interesting materials in sufficiently large quantity for their properties characterisation. The new findings are presented in "Nature Communications".
The possibility of finding a compound that was metallically conductive, super-hard, and ultra-incompressible was long considered unlikely in science. It was...
24.06.2019 | Event News
29.04.2019 | Event News
17.04.2019 | Event News
19.07.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
19.07.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
19.07.2019 | Earth Sciences