Astronomers have detected X-rays from Uranus using the Chandra X-ray Observatory
NASA has announced for the first time that astronomers have detected X-rays coming from Uranus using the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The researchers believe the discovery could help scientists learn more about the icy planet on the outer fringes of our Solar System. Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun and has a pair of rings surrounding its equator.
The icy planet is four times the diameter and rotates the Earth on its side in absolute contrast to all the other planets in the Solar System. In the entire history of mankind, only one spacecraft has ever flown over Uranus. Voyager 2 flew around collecting data. All other data about the planet is collected by astronomers using telescopes such as Chandra or the Hubble Space Telescope.
Uranium consists mainly of hydrogen and helium. In the new discoveries announced by NASA, astronomers used observations of Chandra made in 2002 and then in 2017. In the first series of observations, scientists detected X-rays using data obtained in 2002 but only now analyzed. In the data obtained in 2017, the researchers noted a possible flash of X-rays.
The above image of Uranus shows a pink X-ray image of Uranus from 2002, obtained by Chandra, superimposed on an optical image obtained by the Keck-I telescope in a separate study in 2004. The two images were taken in approximately the same orientation. As for what causes Uranus to emit X-rays, scientists say it's mostly the Sun. In the past, astronomers have found that both Jupiter and Saturn scatter the X-ray light emitted by the Sun, just as the Earth's atmosphere scatters sunlight.
Interestingly, there are some indications that at least one other source of X-rays is present on Uranus. Scientists hope to make further observations to confirm this, and if true, it could have implications for understanding Uranus. The rings surrounding Uranus can produce X-rays themselves, which is what really happens in the rings around Saturn.