Miranda has been called the Frankenstein’s monster of the Solar System. There’s just such a jumbled mismatch of landscapes. You’d almost believe a mad scientist took pieces of several different moons and stitched them together.
Apparently this is a result of sporadic global resurfacing events. At least that’s the conclusion of this 2014 paper entitled “Global Resurfacing of Uranus’s Moon Miranda by Convection.” Due to a paywall, I haven’t been able to read that paper in full, but the research is summarized in articles here, here, and here.
Apparently Miranda used to have a more eccentric (non-circular) orbit than she does today. Thus, the gravitational pull of Uranus would sometimes be stronger, sometimes weaker, causing Miranda to repeatedly compress and relax. Imagine Uranus using Miranda like a stress ball and you’ll get a sense of what Miranda must’ve felt like.
All that squeezing and unsqueezing created friction and heat in Miranda’s interior. Miranda’s internal ices got melty. Convection cells formed underground, much like they do here on Earth, and some sort of tectonic and/or volcanic activity got started on the surface.
Something similar happens on Europa, a moon of Jupiter. As a result, Europa has the smoothest, youngest-looking surface in the whole Solar System. So how did Europa turn out looking so beautifully smooth while Miranda turned into Frankenstein’s moon?
Based on what I’ve read, it sounds like Miranda’s orbit changed. Uranus stopped squeezing Miranda like a stress ball, Miranda’s interior cooled off, and the resurfacing process came to a halt. What we see today is a moon that is only half transformed by global resurfacing.
Personally, after studying reference photos of Miranda, learning about what happened to her, and drawing her portrait myself, I no longer feel comfortable with the whole Frankenstein’s monster thing.
I’d like to suggest a new metaphor: Miranda is the Picasso painting of the Solar System. Miranda does have a weird mishmash of surface features that don’t make a lot of sense together (much like a Picasso painting), but that doesn’t make Miranda monstrous. It gives her her own strange, confusing beauty.
So yes, Miranda, to answer your question: I do think you’re beautiful.
4 thoughts on “Meet Miranda, a Moon of Uranus”
Fascinating! I’ve never heard of Miranda before, and I love the Picasso metaphor.
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Thanks! The moons of Uranus really don’t get a lot of attention, unfortunately. I’m hoping to follow this up with posts on some of the other Uranian moons, but sources are so very scarce.
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Miranda is quite a piece of planetary art I have to admit.
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Yes she is!