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Writer Fuel: Astronomers Take a Closer Look at Uranus (& Neptune)

Uranus - Deposit Photos

Astronomers have long believed that the ice giants Uranus and Neptune are rich in frozen water. However, a new study suggests they may also have tons of methane ice. The findings could help solve a puzzle about how these icy worlds formed.

Much about Uranus and Neptune remains unknown. These ice giant worlds have had just a single spacecraft visitor, Voyager 2, which flew past them in the 1980s. As a result, scientists have only a hazy idea of the ice giants’ compositions — for example, that they contain significant amounts of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen.

To learn more about what Uranus and Neptune are made of, astronomers have devised models that match the physical properties that Voyager 2 and Earth-based telescopes have measured. Many models assume the planets have a thin hydrogen and helium envelope; an underlying layer of compressed, superionic water and ammonia; and a central rocky core. (The water is what gives them their “ice giant” tag.) Some estimates suggest Uranus and Neptune may each have 50,000 times the quantity of water in Earth’s oceans.

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Full Story From Live Science