Explaining the Low Luminosity of Uranus: A Self-Consistent Thermal and Structural Evolution Model

A. Vazan, R. Helled

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The low luminosity of Uranus is a long-standing challenge in planetary science. Simple adiabatic models are inconsistent with the measured luminosity, which indicates that Uranus is non-adiabatic because it has thermal boundary layers and/or conductive regions. A gradual composition distribution acts as a thermal boundary to suppress convection and slow down the internal cooling. We investigate whether composition gradients in the deep interior of Uranus can explain its low luminosity, the required composition gradient, and whether it is stable for convective mixing on a timescale of some billion years. We present several alternative non-adiabatic internal structures that fit the Uranus measurements. We found that convective mixing is limited in the interior of Uranus, and a composition gradient is stable and sufficient to explain its current luminosity. As a result, the interior of Uranus might still be very hot, in spite of its low luminosity. We suggest that the initial energy content of Uranus cannot be greater than 20% of its formation (accretion) energy, and that an interior with a mixture of ice and rock, rather than separated ice and rock shells, is consistent with measurements, suggesting that Uranus might not be differentiated.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAGU Fall Meeting Abstracts
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • 6255 Neptune
  • 6260 Neptunian satellites
  • 6290 Uranian satellites
  • 6293 Uranus


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