Voyager 2 Radio Science Observations of the Uranian System: Atmosphere, Rings, and Satellites

Science  04 Jul 1986:
Vol. 233, Issue 4759, pp. 79-84
DOI: 10.1126/science.233.4759.79


Voyager 2 radio occultation measurements of the Uranian atmosphere were obtained between 2 and 7 degrees south latitude. Initial atmospheric temperature profiles extend from pressures of 10 to 900 millibars over a height range of about 100 kilometers. Comparison of radio and infrared results yields mole fractions near the tropopause of 0.85 and 0.15 ± 0.05 for molecular hydrogen and helium, respectively, if no other components are present; for this composition the tropopause is at about 52 kelvins and 110 millibars. Distinctive features in the signal intensity measurements for pressures above 900 millibars strongly favor model atmospheres that include a cloud deck of methane ice. Modeling of the intensity measurements for the cloud region and below indicates that the cloud base is near 1,300 millibars and 81 kelvins and yields an initial methane mole fraction of about 0.02 for the deep atmosphere. Scintillations in signal intensity indicate small-scale stucture throughout the stratosphere and upper troposphere. As judged from data obtained during occultation ingress, the ionosphere consists of a multilayer structure that includes two distinct layers at 2,000 and 3,500 kilometers above the 100-millibar level and an extended topside that may reach altitudes of 10,000 kilometers or more. Occultation measurements of the nine previously known rings at wavelengths of 3.6 and 13 centimeters show characteristic values of optical depth between about 0.8 and 8; the maxim value occurs in the outer region of the ∈ ring, near its periapsis. Forward-scattered signals from this ring have properties that differ from those of any of Saturn's rings, and they are inconsistent with a discrete scattering object or local (three-dimensional) assemblies of orbiting objects. These signals suggest a new kdnd of planetary ring feature characterized by highly ordered cylindrical substructures of radial scale on the order of meters and azimuthal scale of kilometers or more. From radio data alone the mass of the Uranian system is GMsys = 5,794,547– 60 cubic kilometers per square second; from a combination of radio and optical navigation data the mass of Uranus alone is GMu = 5,793,939± 60 cubic kilometers per square second. From all available Voyager data, induding imaging radii, the mean uncompressed density of the five major satellites is 1.40± 0.07 grams per cubic centimeter; this value is consistent with a solar mix of material and apparently rules out a cometary origin of the satellites.

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