Tags: Hubble | Telescope | Discovers | New | Uranus | Rings | Moons

Hubble Telescope Discovers New Uranus Rings, Moons

Tuesday, 27 December 2005 12:00 AM

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed a new pair of rings around Uranus and two new, small moons orbiting the planet.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a international cooperative project between NASA and the European Space Agency.

According to a December 22 NASA press release, the largest ring is twice the diameter of the planet's previously known rings. The rings are so far from the planet that they are being called Uranus' second ring system.

One of the new moons shares its orbit with one of the rings. Analysis of the Hubble data also shows that the orbits of Uranus' inner moons have changed significantly over the past decade.

"The detection of these new interacting rings and moons will help us better understand how planetary systems are formed and sustained," said Jennifer Wiseman, Hubble program scientist at NASA, "which is of key importance to NASA's scientific exploration goals."

Because the dust that orbits Uranus is depleted by spiraling away, the planet's rings must be replenished continually with fresh material.

Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute and Jack Lissauer of NASA's Ames Research Center, both in California, propose that the outermost ring is replenished by a 12-mile-wide newly discovered moon, named Mab, which they first observed using Hubble in 2003.

Meteoroid impacts continually blast dust off the surface of Mab. The dust then spreads out into a ring around Uranus. Mab's ring receives a fresh infusion of dust from each impact, keeping the ring supplied with new dust while older dust spirals away or bangs back into the moon.

Showalter and Lissauer have measured changes to the orbits of Uranus' inner moons since 1994. The moons' motions were derived from earlier Hubble and Voyager 2 (1986) observations.

Hubble uncovered the rings in August 2004 during a series of 80, four-minute exposures of Uranus. The team later recognized the faint new rings in 24 similar images taken a year earlier. Images from September 2005 show the rings even more clearly.

Because the new rings are nearly transparent, they will be easier to see when they tilt edge-on. The rings will increase in brightness every year as Uranus approaches its equinox, when the sun shines directly over the planet's equator.

When it happens in 2007, all the rings will be tilted edge-on toward Earth and easier to study.

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed a new pair of rings around Uranus and two new, small moons orbiting the planet. The Hubble Space Telescope is a international cooperative project between NASA and the European Space Agency. According to a December 22 NASA...
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2005-00-27
Tuesday, 27 December 2005 12:00 AM
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