While investigating the rings of Uranus, scientists have come to theorize that two pairs of the planet’s moons are likely on a collision course with each other.
Uranus is believed to be an ice giant, like its neighbor Neptune, and is the seventh planet from the sun, as well as the third largest. It currently has 27 known moons as well as a system of rings which form an intermediate stage between the vast complexity of Saturn’s rings and the relative simplicity that the other giant planets, Jupiter and Neptune, have. The rings are collectively known as Eta.
Robert Chancia, Matthew Hedman and Richard French are researchers from the University of Idaho and Wellesley College who were looking into the orbit of these rings, which seem to move in a triangular, rather than circular, fashion. (The orbit of Uranus’ rings has long interested scientists, because they are confined to an unusually narrow area for reasons that are unclear.)
Upon investigation, the trio of scientists discovered that the rings’ orbit was being modified by the gravitational pull of Uranus’s moon, Cressida. (Unlike other moons, which are named for characters in classical mythology, all of Uranus’ are named for characters of William Shakespeare or Alexander Pope.)
While examining Cressida, however, they determined that it is on course to eventually collide with its sister moon, Desdemona. Upon further investigation, they learned that Uranus’s moon Cupid is also on a collision course with Belinda.
Don’t worry: Cressida and Desdemona will probably only hit sometime in the next million years. Cupid and Belinda have even longer to wait.
This doesn’t seem to be the first time that this has happened, either: scientists have long theorized that Uranus’ rings are made up of pieces of other moons which have collided with each other in the past.
Image Source: NASA
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