Uranus emits extra x-rays, and scientists don't know why
They could be just reflections, or Uranus could have its own version of the Northern Lights
Chandra image gallery. X-ray: NASA/CXO/University College London/W. Dunn et al; Optical: W.M. Keck Observatory.
Scientists have recently discovered x-rays coming from the . Using data from the , scientists have observed x-rays on in images from both 2002 and 2017. (You might be thinking, “2002, how is that new?!” Sometimes, like in this case, astronomers will record a lot of data and not actually finish analyzing it until years later).
They combined this x-ray information (shown in pink) with optical pictures of Uranus (blue), resulting in the image you see here.
High energy from a planet might sound shocking, but we’ve actually seen x-rays coming from most planets in the solar system. The emits x-rays, and planets reflect some of that light back into space. The interesting thing with Uranus is that it seems to show more x-ray than you’d expect from just reflected sunlight. So, how is Uranus producing extra x-rays? Maybe it simply reflects more x-ray light than the other planets, or maybe it has charged particles hitting its rings, like Saturn. Another explanation could be — like the Aurora Borealis on Earth, other planets emit light when charged particles (like ) travel along the lines of their .
Either way, we’ll need more observations to know for certain what’s going on with Uranus. We know quite a bit about our solar system, but the two ice giants (Uranus and ) are woefully unexplored. The only mission to visit them was , back in the 1970s, and we haven’t been back since.