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HomePhysicsOne Mannequin to Describe Them All—Properly, Ice Giants Anyway

One Mannequin to Describe Them All—Properly, Ice Giants Anyway

• Physics 15, 89

The spectral responses of the atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune can now each be absolutely characterised with the identical mannequin, an achievement that has implications for characterizing the atmospheres of exoplanets.

IncrediVFX (left); Crimson (proper)/

A brand new mannequin supplies a proof for why Uranus (left) and Neptune (proper) are completely different shades of blue.

In relation to area missions, the main focus has largely lain with planets near Earth, with these farther afield being ignored within the chilly. However that’s about to vary with a devoted mission to Uranus slated for the 2030s. Scientists say that this journey will assist them higher perceive the atmospheres of each Uranus and Neptune, our Photo voltaic System’s two ice giants–chilly fuel behemoths composed principally of parts heavier than hydrogen and helium. Now, Patrick Irwin from the College of Oxford, UK, and colleagues have, for the primary time, concurrently analyzed the reflectance spectra of each ice giants utilizing the identical mannequin [1]. In doing so, the crew made two serendipitous discoveries in regards to the visible appearances of each worlds, unlocking the rationale why they shimmer in numerous hues of blue and why Neptune has darkish spots. The crew says that the findings may have implications for the research of the atmospheres of planets past our Photo voltaic System.

Whereas there have been no earlier stand-alone missions to Uranus and Neptune, the planets haven’t been utterly ignored. For instance, as NASA’s Voyager 2 handed by the ice giants within the late Eighties, it collected details about the reflectance of each worlds. Then in 1994, the Hubble House Telescope captured its first photographs of the planets’ icy exteriors.

Many of the knowledge collected from these and different ground-based observations take a look at small spectral areas of the sunshine that Uranus and Neptune mirror and emit. This restricted knowledge makes it troublesome for researchers to find out the properties of sure aerosol particles within the planets’ atmospheres. This downside is especially acute for Neptune as a result of its small dimension within the sky makes it arduous to gather the longer wavelengths that the planet emits.

To resolve that concern, Irwin and colleagues tailored a mannequin that has beforehand been used to discover the reflectance spectra of almost each different planet in our Photo voltaic System, in addition to a number of exoplanets. They tailored the mannequin to work over a large wavelength vary, from 0.3 to 2.5


. The crew then used the mannequin to concurrently analyze obtainable observational knowledge for each ice giants.

The crew’s evaluation reveals the presence of what they consider to be hydrocarbon-based aerosols excessive up within the stratospheres of each Uranus and Neptune. These particles fall via the planets’ atmospheres, mixing and reacting with fuel, comparable to methane, that’s concurrently shifting up. This course of creates a haze round every planet. The crew reveals that Neptune’s ambiance is extra dynamic, giving Neptune a thinner haze—and darker hue—than Uranus. The crew additionally finds that these aerosols may be behind Neptune’s beforehand unexplained darkish spots. After interacting with methane, the aerosols then meet hydrosulfide, which resides deeper in each Neptune’s and Uranus’ atmospheres. The crew thinks the darkish spots develop in locations on Neptune which have a decrease density of this materials, with the patchiness coming from the dynamics of its enveloping fuel.

Understanding the atmospheres of ice giants might be essential for future exoplanet analysis, because it’s potential that this planet sort is among the many most plentiful within the Milky Manner, says Erich Karkoschka, a planetary researcher on the College of Arizona. That considering comes as a result of, up to now, many of the exoplanets which have been present in our Galaxy have plenty on the order of these of Uranus and Neptune.

Karkoschka notes that as a result of Uranus and Neptune have such comparable sizes, plenty, and compositions, Irwin and his colleagues had been in a position to match their knowledge with the identical mannequin, nevertheless it’s unlikely {that a} comparable evaluation might be carried out with every other two of our Photo voltaic System’s planets. That capacity has implications for characterizing different ice giants. “When you had one [model] for Uranus and a distinct one for Neptune, you then wouldn’t know which to make use of” for one more ice large, he says. However, since this mannequin works for each planets, he thinks there may be “validity” in placing it to make use of on associated methods.

–Allison Gasparini

Allison Gasparini is a contract science author based mostly in Santa Cruz, CA.


  1. P. G. J. Irwin et al., “Hazy blue worlds: A holistic aerosol mannequin for Uranus and Neptune, together with darkish spots,” JGR Planets 127 (2022).

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