Astronomers first detected X-ray emissions in Uranus, a finding that may help reveal more information about the ice giant. The observations were made possible by analyzing data obtained by NASA’s Chandra space telescope in 2002 and 2017. According to a new study published in the scientific journal Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, most of this type of radiation comes from the Sun, that has spread in the upper atmosphere of the planet.
However, the team involved in the work suggested that part of the emissions may also be related to auroras – a phenomenon already observed at other wavelengths – and from a still unknown source. In this regard, one possibility is that Uranus’ rings are also capable of producing X-rays, as seen on Saturn.
“Uranus is surrounded by charged particles, such as electrons and protons, in its close space environment. If these energetic particles collide with the rings, they can cause them to shine in the form of X-rays, ”explained the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in a statement.
In this context, the research highlighted that the unusual parallel orientation of the rotation axis – on most planets in the Solar System, is perpendicular to the plane of the orbit – and Uranus’ magnetic field are responsible for creating a luminous effect of the emissions. Thus, high-energy particles are believed to create complex and variable auroras, so determining the sources of X-rays can help solve other mysteries in the Universe, like growing black holes and neutron stars.
However, W.R. Dunn, the research leader, explained that there are still no technologies needed to fully explain the phenomenon. “The current generation of X-ray observatories does not provide enough sensitivity to speculate spectrally the observed short-time temporal fluctuation”. To address this, he pointed to the need for new missions – such as the Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics (ATHENA) and Lynx observatories, developed by NASA.