Evidence for Ammonia-bearing Species on the Uranian Satellite Ariel Supports Recent Geologic Activity

Richard J. Cartwright, Chloe B. Beddingfield, Tom A. Nordheim, Joseph Roser, William M. Grundy, Kevin P. Hand, Joshua P. Emery, Dale P. Cruikshank, Francesca Scipioni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


We investigated whether ammonia-rich constituents are present on the surface of the Uranian moon Ariel by analyzing 32 near-infrared reflectance spectra collected over a wide range of sub-observer longitudes and latitudes. We measured the band areas and depths of a 2.2 μm feature in these spectra, which has been attributed to ammonia-bearing species on other icy bodies. Ten spectra display prominent 2.2 μm features with band areas and depths >2σ. We determined the longitudinal distribution of the 2.2 μm band, finding no statistically meaningful differences between Ariel's leading and trailing hemispheres, indicating that this band is distributed across Ariel's surface. We compared the band centers and shapes of the five Ariel spectra displaying the strongest 2.2 μm bands to laboratory spectra of various ammonia-bearing and ammonium-bearing species, finding that the spectral signatures of the Ariel spectra are best matched by ammonia-hydrates and flash frozen ammonia-water solutions. Our analysis also revealed that four Ariel spectra display 2.24 μm bands (>2σ band areas and depths), with band centers and shapes that are best matched by ammonia ice. Because ammonia should be efficiently removed over short timescales by ultraviolet photons, cosmic rays, and charged particles trapped in Uranus' magnetosphere, the possible presence of this constituent supports geologic activity in the recent past, such as emplacement of ammonia-rich cryolavas and exposure of ammonia-rich deposits by tectonism, impact events, and mass wasting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL22
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 20 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Evidence for Ammonia-bearing Species on the Uranian Satellite Ariel Supports Recent Geologic Activity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this