Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have detected X-rays coming from Uranus for the first time. This discovery may help scientists learn more about this ice giant planet in our solar system. What could cause this ice giant to emit X-rays? Mainly the Sun, just like how astronomers have observed that both Jupiter and Saturn scatter X-ray light given off by the star. One of the possibilities is that the rings of Uranus are producing X-rays themselves, similar to Saturn’s rings. Read more for a video and additional information.
Uranus is surrounded by charged particles such as electrons and protons in its nearby space environment and if they collide with the rings, it could cause them to glow in X-rays. A second possibility is that at least some of the X-rays come from auroras on Uranus. How so? Well, the X-rays are also emitted in Earth’s auroras, produced by energetic electrons after they travel down the planet’s magnetic field lines to its poles and are slowed down by the atmosphere.
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Uranus is an especially interesting target for X-ray observations because of the unusual orientations of its spin axis and its magnetic field. 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,” according to NASA.