Scientists are seeing X-rays being emitted from Uranus for the very first time, according to new research.
On Wednesday, the study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research that lays out how a comparison of two images of the planet taken by the Chandra Observatory in 2002 and 2017 show a clear detection of X-rays in the first image, while the second shows a possible flare of X-rays on the enigmatic and icy planet.
According to NASA, the reason for these X-rays is “mainly the sun.”
However, “there are tantalizing hints that at least one other source of X-rays is present,” the space agency noted.
“One possibility is that the rings of Uranus are producing X-rays themselves, which is the case for Saturn’s rings,” NASA said. “Another possibility is that at least some of the X-rays come from auroras on Uranus, a phenomenon that has previously been observed on this planet at other wavelengths.”
X-rays can be provide a crucial window into the processes and characteristics of our universe. In the case of Uranus, these characteristics can include “atmospheric, surface and planetary ring composition.”
And while X-ray lights given off by the sun have been previously observed by astronomers on Jupiter and Saturn, this hasn’t been the case for icy giants like Uranus and Neptune.
The agency hopes that by figuring out the origin of the X-rays observed at Uranus, researchers can better grasp how mysterious objects including black holes and neutron stars emit X-rays.
Uranus is roughly four times the diameter of Earth and is the seventh planet from the sun, and is known for its distinct pair of rings around its equator and its unique side rotation.
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