X-rays are detected for the first time in Uranus, probably from the planet’s rings (VIDEO)

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.

With the help of the Chandra X-ray Observatory of the US space agency NASA, astronomers first detected X-rays from Uranus. The discovery may help scientists learn more about this enigmatic giant ice planet in our Solar System. The results were published on Wednesday (31) in the scientific journal Journal of Geophysical Research.

The researchers used Chandra observations made in Uranus in 2002 and 2017. In the first episode, there was less detection and, 15 years later, a possible X-ray outbreak. What can 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 the Earth’s atmosphere scatters sunlight. Although scientists initially expected that most of the detected X-rays were also scattered, there is evidence that at least one other source of X-rays is present. If other observations confirm this hypothesis, it could have intriguing implications for Uranus’ understanding.

Uranus is surrounded by charged particles, such as electrons and protons, and it is possible that Uranus’ rings are producing X-rays just as Saturn’s rings are. If these energetic particles collide with the rings, they can cause the rings to shine in X-rays. Another possibility is that at least some of the X-rays come from auroras in Uranus, a phenomenon that has been observed on this planet at other wavelengths.

Exotic axis

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 the Earth, rotates on its side, which makes it different from all other planets in the Solar System. Uranus is composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium.

Uranus is an especially interesting target for X-ray observations because of the unusual orientations of its axis of rotation and its 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 Uranus is tilted sideways, its magnetic field is tilted by 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.

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