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Uranus Emits X-rays: Astronomers Detect Sun's Radiation Scattered by Icy Planet's Rings

Image by @NASA / Instagram.

Image by @NASA / Instagram.

It has been known that both Jupiter and Saturn scatter X-ray light that is given off by the Sun, which is quite similar to how Earth’s atmosphere scatters the Sun’s light.

The seventh planet of our Solar System seems to be emitting X-rays in which a recent study has revealed. Examining the two visuals of the planet taken by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Chandra Observatory in 2002 and 2017, a team of nine scientists has discovered that the iced planet might also be emitting the X-rays, a fact that was only applicable to the first six planets of the solar system earlier.

Published in the Journal of Geophysical Research last week, researchers used two Chandra observations, the first taken in 2002 and the second from 2017. They saw a clear presence of X-rays from the first observation that was analyzed recently, and a possible flare of X-rays in those obtained fifteen years later. In a comparative graphic, a Chandra X-ray image of Uranus from 2002 in pink colour is superimposed on an optical image from the Keck-I Telescope obtained in a separate study in 2004. The latest image shows the planet at approximately the same orientation as it was during the 2002 Chandra observations.

It has been known that both Jupiter and Saturn scatter X-ray light that is given off by the Sun, which is quite similar to how Earth’s atmosphere scatters the Sun’s light. And with this knowledge, the authors of the new Uranus study initially expected that most of the X-rays detected from the ringed planet would also be from the scattering of the sunlight.

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However, on further study, the team found that at least one other source of X-rays is present on the planet. It is being said that on further observations, the source of the unknown X-rays may be discovered which might have some intriguing implications for understanding Uranus.

According to a statement by NASA, one possibility is that the Uranus rings are producing X-rays themselves, since the same ability is found for Saturn’s rings. The statement further mentioned that Uranus is surrounded by charged particles such as electrons and protons in its nearby space environment and if these particles collide with the rings, there are chances that the rings could glow in X-rays.