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  • Writer's pictureLauren Jessop

Astronomers have detected X-rays from Uranus – no joke

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

On Wednesday, NASA announced that astronomers have detected X-rays from Uranus for the first time, using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Here is a brief description of their report, as well as the top ten things NASA would like you to know about Uranus.

From the NASA statement: “Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun and has two sets of rings around its equator. The planet, which has four times the diameter of Earth, rotates on its side, making it different from all other planets in the solar system. Since Voyager 2 was the only spacecraft to ever fly by Uranus, astronomers currently rely on telescopes much closer to Earth, like Chandra and the Hubble Space Telescope, to learn about this distant and cold planet that is made up almost entirely of hydrogen and helium.”

Previous observations of Uranus in the 1990s yielded non-detections, but in the new study, researchers used Chandra observations taken in 2002 and then again in 2017, which were just recently analyzed. They saw a clear detection of X-rays from the first observation and a possible flare of X-rays in those obtained fifteen years later.

Why is this important? Well, besides being able to write an entire article about Uranus, NASA says the result may help scientists learn more about “this enigmatic ice giant planet in our solar system.”

There are many more details on the findings of the study and you can read them by clicking the NASA link in the first paragraph.

A few more interesting facts; In Greek mythology, Uranus was Father Sky, or god of the sky, and the radioactive element uranium was named after Uranus when it was discovered in 1789, just eight years after the planet was discovered.

The top ten things that NASA would like you to know about Uranus:

  • It’s huge: It’s about four times wider than Earth. If Earth were a large apple, Uranus would be the size of a basketball.

  • It is the Seventh Wanderer: Uranus orbits our Sun, a star, and is the seventh planet from the Sun at a distance of about 1.8 billion miles (2.9 billion kilometers).

  • It has a Short-ish Day and Long-ish Year: Uranus takes about 17 hours to rotate once (a Uranian day), and about 84 Earth years to complete an orbit of the Sun (a Uranian year).

  • It is an Ice Giant: Most of its mass is a hot, dense fluid of “icy” materials – water, methane and ammonia – above a small rocky core.

  • It’s Gassy: Uranus has an atmosphere made mostly of molecular hydrogen and atomic helium, with a small amount of methane.

  • It has Many Moons: Uranus has 27 known moons, and they are named after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.

  • The Other Ringed World: Uranus has 13 known rings. The inner rings are narrow and dark and the outer rings are brightly colored.

  • It’s A Bit Lonely: Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to fly by Uranus. No spacecraft has orbited this distant planet to study it at length and up close.

  • It is Lifeless: Uranus cannot support life as we know it.

  • And One Cool Fact: Like Venus, Uranus rotates east to west. But Uranus is unique in that it rotates on its side.

The NASA website is very interesting, and if you didn’t learn all you needed to know about Uranus from this, you can get more information there.

While doing my research on Uranus for this piece, I did see an article that states, “NASA has plans to probe Uranus in search of gas.” I’m just going to leave that one right there.

Originally published on Citizen Stringer, April 2, 2021

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