School: Crosby Heights Public School
Teacher: Jennifer Boehlke
City: Richmond Hill, Ontario
"On February 16, 1948, at the McDonald Observatory in western Texas, the first documented sighting of Miranda was reported. Upon discovery, it was given the name, “Miranda”, in reference to the daughter of Prospero in William Shakespeare's play, “The Tempest”. They had just spotted one of the most unique aspects that our corner of the universe has to offer. Not only was it the first satellite of the planet Uranus sighted since the past century, but it has a much different climate than it’s neighbours. At the time before Voyager 2’s journey, only 5 moons of Uranus had been identified. Among those, in order of their discoveries, were Oberon, Titiana, Umbriel, Ariel, and Miranda. The first is about half ice and half rock, with craters scattered on the surface, while the second has fault lines running across it. The third has a strangely dark surface, except for an even weirder 140 kilometer ring of light on the surface. Younger than the rest and featuring a light surface, the fourth features valleys surrounded by faults. Small, icy and the closest to the planet, the mean surface temperature of the fifth has been recorded as low as -187° C; which makes sense for something over 120,000 km from the sun. On this faraway moon, gravity levels are lower than Earth due to a much smaller diameter of 500 km, approximately one-seventh of Earth’s. It was the last planetoid discovered orbiting Uranus until the launch of NASA’s space probe, Voyager 2, in 1977. After 9 years in space, the probe was able to capture photos and grant us additional details about the moon’s strange landscape and remains the only one flying close enough to do so.
Viewing Miranda is difficult for amateur telescopes, as it is near invisible to them due to its strange apparent magnitude. Significant portions of the information we know about the moon were obtained during the flyby Voyager 2 made of Uranus on January 25, 1986. The probe passed at a much closer distance than it did for any other nearby moons, only 29,000 km from the surface. Unfortunately, no major plans for continuing the exploration of Miranda are being discussed, being overridden by more high-priority missions to Mars and the Jovian System. Despite these obstacles, NASA's Planetary Science Decadal Survey held in 2017 revealed there is a possibility of an orbiter returning to Uranus some time in the 2020s. In the best case scenario, this orbiter would pass by each of the gas planet’s moons including Miranda, while hopefully capturing additional photos and lead us to crack the mystery of the moons strange environments."