The frosty worlds surrounding planets like Jupiter and Saturn may indeed host life. We know there’s liquid water beneath the surface of some of them — it spews out into space on a regular basis — but we’ve yet to venture to those worlds to get a better look. Now, scientists say that the huge balls of ice around Uranus may also be a potential bastion for life.
As Eos reports, researchers have been taking a very close look at some of the moons of Uranus, and what they think they see looks very promising. The moons — Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon — are covered in a mix of ice and rock, but knowing what lies deep within them has proven a challenge. So, scientists compared them to moons like Enceladus and Europa, both of which are believed to hide vast oceans beneath their surfaces, and they’ve noted some striking similarities.
The moons of Uranus have endured impacts from objects in space, just like the rest of the worlds in our system, but there is also evidence that the moons aren’t just frozen wastelands. There are clear signs of what is known as cryovolcanism, which is liquid water erupting from within the planet and then freezing on the surface. That means there is likely liquid water in vast quantities deep beneath the ice, but does it host life? Well, that’s another question entirely.
Researchers believe it might be possible to confirm the presence of liquid water within the moons of Uranus by launching a mission to detect magnetic fields around them. If there is water within the moons, and it has reasonably high salt content, the magnetic field of Uranus could produce a reaction within those moons, allowing the moons to produce their own magnetic fields. Using models of Uranus and its moons, scientists say it would likely be possible to detect those fields around at least four of the five largest moons.
We’re still a long way from actually launching such a mission, but if we intend to check off all potential homes for life in our solar system, we’re going to have to head to Uranus eventually, and we might find something very exciting.