Prue (Varin) Wongpunler
School: NIST International School
"At the moment among the three primary targets, the most promising candidate for further study is Miranda.
Miranda shows signs of geological activities, indicators to its possibly active state and habitability. At one-twenty seventh to the size of Earth, Miranda should seemingly be chalked off as a dead planet. However, Miranda’s “coronae” contains extruded ridges, which are possibly products of ammonia-water. If this hypothesis is true, the planet could store a source of heat. This property of Miranda awaits explanation - is it due to the tidal friction from its orbit around Uranus or is the energy released from the radioactive decay of the material inside? Whatever it is, probing the planet might shed light onto other moons with latent heat on or underneath its surface.
Miranda could also hold the clues to the collision that tilted Uranus. Uranus is the only planet that travels as if it was a barrel rolling around the Sun. It is theorized that Uranus must have faced a large collision. However, the details behind this are still shrouded in mystery. Sending space probes to observe the isotopes ratio of Miranda and other major Moons could help establish whether they are originally from the same object. If validated, Miranda and the other 27 moons could be attributed to as the cause of the collision and Uranus’s tilting. If not, it could be asserted that the moons have always been separate and another object caused the collision.
Yet another boon of exploring Miranda to astronomy is the chance to uncover the violent past in the formation of the Solar System. One of the many theories behind Miranda’s origin is that a collision shattered Miranda into many jagged pieces. These pieces were then gravitationally attracted to each other, but failed to resume their original places. Instead, they were jumbled up in a chaotic ball. This feature begs further study, as it can be an important piece to complete scientist’s supposition of an early phase of the Solar System called “Heavy Bombardment”, a period where many rocks and protoplanet’s material were hurling at each other.
Of course, other moons also make great candidates for further inquiry. Triton, Neptune’s moon, is also volcanically active and thus as potentially habitable as Miranda. However, previous probes on a mission past Triton have allowed scientists to gather significant amounts of data about its surface already. What NASA should continue to explore, thus, is other moons that also have potential for life but are still not well-understood. Considering all these characteristics, Miranda should be the next destination that NASA should target."