Stephanie Dragoi

Stephanie Dragoi

Grade: 9

School: National Cathedral School

Teacher: Deborah Virtue

City: Washington, DC

Topic: Ariel

For decades, scientists have been searching for extraterrestrial water in our solar system. The indispensability of water to life, its incredible power, and the many distinctive properties of this simple molecule are what make finding even a trace of it anywhere in space so exciting. According to data and observations from a 1986 NASA mission, there is a possibility of an entire subsurface ocean on Uranus’ brightest moon, Ariel, which is potentially linked to the satellite’s geological history in significant ways.

NASA’s previous flyby of Ariel revealed a relatively smooth surface, which suggests its outermost geologic layer is constantly being renewed by some type of movement deep within the moon, possibly tectonic activity caused by subsurface oceans. Some believe Ariel’s smooth surface is due to a process called “extrusive cryovolcanism,” geyser activity that expels substances onto a world’s surface. Studying this process on Ariel alone would provide invaluable insight into how icy worlds change over time. Examining the moon’s geologic history could also help scientists understand more about solar system evolution and may even reveal unknown connections to Uranus’ rings.

A mission to Ariel could also confirm the presence of an ocean on the satellite by using magnetic, libration, gravity field, or topographical evaluations of tidal flexing. The confirmation of oceans on Ariel would open the door to almost endless possibilities, which could then be explored, including the oceans’ habitability and even the prospect of existing life on the moon.

Ariel is believed to be the only ocean world in the Uranian system. Choosing to further explore this fascinating moon holds the potential for countless discoveries not only about Ariel’s fascinating history and continuous change but also in relation to Uranus and even our solar system’s ongoing evolution.

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