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X-rays out of Uranus make the ice planet look like an ’80s album cover

todayApril 3, 2021 3

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Far from the Sun, near the outer limits of our solar system, the ice giant Uranus slowly orbits its distant parent star. For the first time, astronomers have seen X-rays emanating from this distant world.

The Chandra X-ray observatory, launched in 1999, examines the Universe in X-rays, highly-energetic wavelengths of electromagnetic energy most commonly associated with diagnosing broken bones.

“NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is a telescope specially designed to detect X-ray emission from very hot regions of the Universe such as exploded stars, clusters of galaxies, and matter around black holes. Because X-rays are absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, Chandra must orbit above it, up to an altitude of 139,000 km (86,500 mi) in space,” NASA describes.

A new study of observations shows this world — literally — in a new light.

Seeing through the X-ray mystery

X-rays have been seen before, radiating from the gas giants of the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn. On those worlds, most X-ray emissions are the result of scattering of X-ray radiation from the Sun, while a percentage are generated in aurorae — similar to northern and southern lights.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXO/University College London/W. Dunn et al; Optical: W.M. Keck Observatory