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Probing the Middle of Uranus Yields Surprising Results

3-2-1 …

“It’s pronounced YOUR-a-nus, not your-ANUS, you blankety-blank-blank!”

Get that frustration out of your system now and we’ll promise not to do any more Uranus probe double entendres. OK? Finished? Good.

“A new theoretical method paves the way to modelling the interior of the ice giants Uranus and Neptune, thanks to computer simulations on the water contained within them.”

The Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA – International School of Advanced Studies) in Trieste, Italy, announced this week a new way of determining what is inside planets far too distant to land rovers or ground-penetrating landers. Until now, space scientists have had to settle for theories based on features and reflections of surface matter and magnetic field studies. To get a better X-ray of Uranus and Neptune, scientists at SISSA and the University of California at Los Angeles developed a new computer model using data about the water on and inside Uranus.

“In such exotic physical conditions, we cannot think of ice as we are used to. Even water is actually different, denser, with several molecules dissociated into positive and negative ions, thus carrying an electrical charge. Superionic water lies somewhere between the liquid and solid phases: the oxygen atoms of the H2O molecule are organised in a crystalline lattice, while hydrogen atoms diffuse freely like in a charged fluid.”

In a statement on their study published in Nature Communications, SISSA professors and study co-authors Federico Grasselli and Stefano Baroni describe how they used their model to simulate the three stages of water on Uranus – ice, liquid and superionic (a part-liquid-part-ice condition caused by extremely high temperatures and pressures.) the charges show these states have different positive and negative ions than Earth water and they’re more dense than what comes out of our taps. These simulations told them a lot about the evolution of the planets and what may be deep inside of them.

Different in many ways

“In particular, the heat conduction properties that emerge from our study allow us to hypothesise that the existence of a frozen core may explain the anomalously low luminosity of Uranus as due to an extremely low heat flux from its interior towards the surface.”

They show that the planetary layers below the fluid layer that generates a planet’s magnetic field are predominantly superionic water, which may help explain the behavior of these fields on these distant planets. This will aid future research in determining how these so-called gas giants formed and how they cooled into space bodies made up of a water that is not liquid or solid – where hydrogen atoms are free but oxygen atoms are locked in a lattice formation. A planetary slushie?

If you’ve been keeping score, we’ve made it through the article without another double entendre about scientists using a computer model to peek inside YOUR-a-nus.

You’re welcome.


Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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