Daily News Analysis

Uranus emitting X-rays: Scientists probe mystery around 'Ice Giant' planet

5th April, 2021 Science and Technology

GS PAPER III: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.

Context: Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun is reflecting X-rays, says a new study by scientists.

  • This is the first time astronomers have detected X-rays from Uranus, which is also known as the 'sideways planet' because it rotates on its side, unlike any other planet in our solar system.
  • As part of this new study, scientists compared observations of the Chandra Space Telescope dating back to 2002 and 2017.
    • The Chandra program is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and is a vital source of information for scientists examining the solar system, along with the Hubble Space Telescope.
    • A close analysis of the 2002 observation showed clear detection of X-rays. When compared to the observations from 2017, scientists saw what they believe to be a possible flare of X-rays.
  • Sun could cause Uranus to emit X-rays. This is not entirely uncommon since scientists have already established that both Jupiter and Saturn scatter X-ray light given off by the sun.
  • The phenomenon is not much different from how Earth's atmosphere scatters the light of the Sun.

Reason behind X-ray scattering:

  • In the case of Saturn, scientists say the planet's rings themselves produce X-rays.
  • This could also be the case with Uranus since its rings collide with charged particles such as electrons and protons that could cause the rings to glow in X-rays.
  • While more research is needed to establish this claim, there is also the possibility that some X-rays come from auroras on Uranus.

About Uranus:

  • Uranus is a ringed planet like Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune
  • Discovered in 1781, Uranus was the first planet found using a telescope
  • Four times the size of Earth, 'Ice Giant' planet Uranus has 27 moons
  • 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 other planets in our 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.