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Scientists Baffled By X-Rays From Uranus

by : Julia Banim on : 02 Apr 2021 16:36
Scientists Baffled By X-Rays From UranusNASA/CXO/University College London/W. Dunn et al; Optical: W.M. Keck Observatory

Scientists have been left baffled by X-rays emitting from Uranus, after analysing two separate visuals of the giant ice planet.

After observing these snapshots, taken by NASA’s Chandra Observatory in 2002 and 2017 respectively, astronomers spotted X-ray activity in the first observation as well as a possible flare in the second.

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This is the first time X-ray activity has been spotted on Uranus, and scientists have been left intrigued as to what this means going forward.

You can get a closer look at Uranus in the following clip:

Although X-rays have previously been detected in the majority of the planets in our solar system, this activity has never before been seen in Uranus or its fellow ice giant Neptune.

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It’s believed the most probable cause for the majority of the X-rays detected is the sun. It’s already understood that the planets of Jupiter and Saturn both scatter X-ray light emitted by the sun, and this new study would suggest this is also true for Uranus.

However, not all of the X-ray activity can be explained, and so NASA has now called for scientists to examine these findings in greater detail.

While the authors of the new Uranus study initially expected that most of the X-rays detected would also be from scattering, there are tantalizing hints that at least one other source of X-rays is present.

If further observations confirm this, it could have intriguing implications for understanding Uranus.

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NASA/CXO/University College London/W. Dunn et al; Optical: W.M. Keck ObservatoryNASA/CXO/University College London/W. Dunn et al; Optical: W.M. Keck Observatory

Studying X-ray emissions can provide scientists with valuable insights into the characteristics of a planet, with these new findings providing fresh insight into ‘atmospheric, surface and planetary ring composition’.

According to NASA, Uranus makes for a particularly interesting target for X-ray analysis on account of the ‘unusual orientations’ of the planet’s spin axis and magnetic field.

NASA continued:

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While the rotation and magnetic field axes of the other planets of the solar system are almost perpendicular to the plane of their orbit, the rotation axis of Uranus is nearly parallel to its path around the Sun.

Furthermore, while Uranus is tilted on its side, its magnetic field is tilted by a different amount, and offset from the planet’s center.

This may cause its auroras to be unusually complex and variable. Determining the sources of the X-rays from Uranus could help astronomers better understand how more exotic objects in space, such as growing black holes and neutron stars, emit X-rays.

A paper detailing these results can be found in the most recent issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research, which can be read here.

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Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: Science, NASA

Credits

NASA and 2 others
  1. NASA

    First X-rays from Uranus Discovered

  2. ACU

    A Low Signal Detection of X‐Rays From Uranus

  3. Chandra X-ray Observatory/YouTube

    A Quick Look at: Uranus