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Weird Object: Uranus' Moon Miranda

No. 13: Patchwork Satellite

RELATED TOPICS: URANUS | VOYAGER
Groove
IN THE GROVE. A collage of textures graces Miranda’s bizarre terrain in this Voyager 2 photo taken January 24, 1986. 
NASA/JPL

Beyond our solar system, symmetry rules. Except for the modern-art tapestries of diffuse nebulae, most objects — star clusters, elliptical galaxies, and stars — look more or less the same from every angle. That’s also true for most nearby objects like the Sun or Saturn. When a celestial body has wildly different hemispheres, like our Moon, it turns heads. But with Uranus’ nearest major satellite, Miranda, the odd appearance goes off the charts into the Pablo Picasso bizarre. 

We might not have ever really known about this except for a major piece of good luck. Ever since its discovery in 1948, this super-dim 16th-magnitude satellite has appeared as no more than a tiny dot in even the largest telescopes. Fortunately, we had one chance for a close-up visit to all of Uranus’ five

then-known satellites when the plucky Voyager 2 spacecraft, limping along with a backup radio, was scheduled to whiz past in 1986. 

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