Although this appears primarily related to the sun, the rings of Uranus can also have a finger in the pie.
Uranus is perhaps the most mysterious planet in our solar system. The planet – which is 64 times the size of Earth – has several rings and rotates on its side, which makes it different from all the other planets. Since the Voyager 2 spacecraft has only visited the ice giant until now, astronomers mainly rely on powerful telescopes like Chandra and Hubble to learn more about the distant and cold planet. This brings us now to a new discovery.
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Uranus is the odd person. Unlike any other planet in our solar system, Uranus flips almost perfectly on its side – like a pig on a spit – to complete a barrel roll every 17 hours. In addition, the magnetic field has an angle of 60 degrees with respect to the axis of rotation. Therefore, when the planet rotates, the magnetosphere oscillates like a poorly thrown ball. This is so strange that scientists still don’t know exactly how to design it.
in a The new study Researchers studied images of Uranus produced by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in 2002 and 2017. This space telescope makes astronomical observations in the X-ray region. This is not possible on Earth because X-rays cannot penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. It leads to an interesting discovery. Because the researchers saw in the first set of data that Uranus gave clear x-rays. Additionally, they saw a possible explosion of x-rays in the data collected 15 years later.
What causes Uranus to emit x-rays? The short answer: Basically the sun. Uranus isn’t the only one that appears to be emitting x-rays. Astronomers know that Jupiter and Saturn also scatter X-ray light from the sun, similar to the way Earth’s atmosphere scatters light from the sun. While researchers initially thought most of the detected X-rays came from scattering, there is intriguing evidence that there may be something else behind it as well.
Researchers suspect that Uranus’ rings also produce x-rays. The same is the case with Saturn’s rings. How is that exactly? Uranus is surrounded by charged particles such as electrons and protons. When these energetic particles collide with the rings, they can cause the rings to glow in the X-rays. Another possibility is that at least some of the X-rays come from the auroras (which appear as colored light displays in the night sky on Earth) on Uranus; A phenomenon previously observed in other wavelengths on this planet.
Uranus is a particularly interesting target for X-ray detection due to the previously mentioned unusual direction of its rotational axis and magnetic field. While the axes of the rotational and magnetic fields of other planets in our solar system are roughly perpendicular to the plane of their orbits, the axis of rotation of Uranus is nearly parallel to its orbit around the sun. In addition, its magnetic field is tilted and shifted in a different way from the center of the planet. This can lead to a complex and changing auroras. Thus, further analysis of Uranus’ X-ray emissions could shed light on these interesting processes.
If other observations also confirm the results of this study, this could have major implications for our understanding of Uranus. But not only that. Knowing the causes of X-rays detected from Uranus could also help astronomers understand how other foreign objects in the universe – such as growing black holes and neutron stars – emit X-rays.
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