NASA’s Chandra space observatory has revealed for the first time the emission of X-rays from the planet Uranus, which may help scientists to learn more about this enigmatic ice giant planet in our solar system.
Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun and has two sets of rings around its equator. The planet, which is four times the diameter of Earth, turns on its side, making it different from all other planets in the solar system. Since Voyager 2 was the only spacecraft to fly across Uranus, astronomers currently rely on telescopes much closer to Earth, such as Chandra and Hubble, to learn about this cold, distant planet that is made up almost entirely of hydrogen. and helium.
In the new study, The researchers used observations of Chandra taken on Uranus in 2002 and then again in 2017. They saw clear X-ray detection from the first observation, recently analyzed, and a possible X-ray flash in those obtained fifteen years later.
What could cause Uranus to emit X-rays? The answer: mainly the sun. Astronomers have observed that both Jupiter and Saturn scatter X-ray light emitted by the Sun, similar to how Earth’s atmosphere scatters light from the Sun. While the authors of the new Uranus study initially expected that most Of the detected X-rays were also scattering, there are tantalizing indications that at least one other X-ray source is present. If more observations confirm this, it could have interesting implications for understanding Uranus.
One possibility is that the rings of Uranus are producing X-rays themselves, which is the case with the rings of Saturn.. Uranus is surrounded by charged particles like electrons and protons in its close space environment. If these energetic particles collide with the rings, they could cause the rings to glow in X-rays. Another possibility is that at least some of the X-rays come from auroras on Uranus., a phenomenon that has been previously observed on this planet at other wavelengths.
On Earth, we can see colored light shows in the sky called auroras, which occur when high-energy particles interact with the atmosphere. X-rays are emitted in Earth’s auroras, produced by energetic electrons after they travel through the planet’s magnetic field lines to its poles and are slowed down by the atmosphere. Jupiter also has auroras. X-rays from Jupiter’s auroras come from two sources: electrons that travel along magnetic field lines, as on Earth, and positively charged atoms and molecules that rain down on Jupiter’s polar regions. However, scientists are less certain about the causes of the auroras on Uranus. Chandra observations can help uncover this mystery, reports the Chandra Observatory on its website.
Uranus is an especially interesting target for X-ray observations due to the unusual orientations of its spin axis and its magnetic field. While the axes of rotation and magnetic field of the other planets in the solar system are almost perpendicular to the plane of their orbit, the axis of rotation of Uranus is almost parallel to its path around the Sun. Furthermore, while Uranus is tilted on its side , its magnetic field is tilted a different amount and displaced from the center of the planet. This can make your auroras unusually complex and variable. Determining the sources of Uranus’s X-rays It could help astronomers better understand how more exotic objects in space, such as growing black holes and neutron stars, emit X-rays.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.