Astronomers have detected X-rays from Uranus for the first time

A step towards learning more about this enigmatic ice giant planet in our solar system.

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun and is also known as the “sideways planet” because it rotates on its side. It is an Ice Giant planet and nearly four times larger than Earth. It has two sets of rings around its equator.

Uranus is made of water, methane, and ammonia fluids above a small rocky center. Its atmosphere is made of hydrogen and helium like Jupiter and Saturn, but it also has methane.

Recently, by using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers- for the first time-have detected X-rays from Uranus. This discovery might have implications in knowing more about Uranus.

Astronomers used Chandra observations taken in Uranus in 2002 and then again in 2017. They saw a clear detection of X-rays from the first observation, just analyzed recently, and a possible flare of X-rays in those obtained fifteen years later.

What causes Uranus to emit X-rays?

The answer is Sun. Scientists observed scattering x-ray light from both Jupiter and Saturn. This x-ray light was given by Sun, like the same way Earth’s atmosphere scatters the Sun’s light.

While authors note that most of the X-rays detected would also be from scattering, but there are possibilities that there could be at least one other source of X-rays present.

One possibility is that Uranus’ rings are generating these x-rays. As highly energetic particles surround Uranus, the collision of these particles with rings might have caused the rings to glow in X-rays.

Another possibility includes that the aurora of the planet might have generated at least some of the X-rays.

The X-rays from Uranus, as shown in this image from March 2021.

Journal Reference:
  1. W. R. Dunn et al. A Low Signal Detection of X-Rays From Uranus. DOI: 10.1029/2020JA028739

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