NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory first detected X-rays emitted by Uranus. The confirmation was made through observations made on the ice giant in 2002 and again in 2017. In the first episode, there was less detection and, 15 years later, a possible X-ray outbreak.
The main explanation for the phenomenon, according to a study by a group of astronomers published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research, is the Sun. Jupiter and Saturn scatter the X-ray light emitted by the Sun, similar to how the Earth’s atmosphere spreads sunlight. Although the authors of the new study initially expected that most of the X-rays detected in Uranus were also scattered, there is tempting evidence that at least one other source of X-rays is present. That’s where the intriguing part comes in.
Since Uranus is surrounded by charged particles, such as electrons and protons, in its near space environment, it is possible that Uranus’ rings are producing x-rays just as Saturn’s rings are. This is because the energetic particles can collide with the rings and thus make the rings shine in X-rays. Another possibility is that at least some of the X-rays come from auroras on Uranus, a phenomenon that has been observed on this planet at other wavelengths.
The study’s authors are William Dunn (University College London, United Kingdom), Jan-Uwe Ness (University of Marseille, France), Laurent Lamy (Paris Observatory, France), Grant Tremblay (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian), Graziella Branduardi- Raymont (University College London), Bradford Snios (CfA), Ralph Kraft (CfA), Z. Yao (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing) and Affelia Wibisono (University College London).
Illustration shows phenomenon. Watch:
Uranus has a different axis of rotation and magnetic field
“While the axis of rotation and magnetic field of the other planets in the solar system are almost perpendicular to the plane of its orbit, Uranus’ axis of rotation is almost parallel to its path around the sun. In addition, while the ice giant is tilted sideways, its magnetic field is tilted in a different amount and displaced from the center of the planet. This can make your auroras extraordinarily complex and variable. Determining the sources of Uranus’ X-rays can help astronomers better understand how more exotic objects in space, like growing black holes and neutron stars, emit X-rays, “describes the Chandra program website, managed by the Marshall Space NASA’s Flight Center.
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