What do we really know about Uranus and Neptune?

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Abstract

The internal structures and compositions of Uranus and Neptune are not well constrained due to the uncertainty in rotation period and flattening, as well as the relatively large error bars on the gravitational coefficients. While Uranus and Neptune are similar in mass and radius, they differ in other physical properties such as thermal emission, obliquity, and inferred atmospheric enrichment. In this Letter, we consider the uncertainty in the planetary rotation periods, show that rotation periods more consistent with the measured oblateness imply that Uranus and Neptune have different internal structures, and speculate on the source of that difference. We conclude that Uranus and Neptune might have very different structures and/or compositions despite their similar masses and radii. We point out that understanding these differences can have important implications for our view of the formation and evolution of Uranus and Neptune as well as intermediate-mass extrasolar planets in general.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL32
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Volume759
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 10 Nov 2012

Keywords

  • planets and satellites: formation
  • planets and satellites: individual (Neptune, Uranus)

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