Astronomers have been given a rare look at Uranus after x-rays were detected radiating from the planet for the first-time.
It’s hoped the find will provide a new opportunity for scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics to learn more about the planet.
Since Voyager 2 was the only spacecraft to ever fly past Uranus, it has meant astronomers have had to rely on telescopes near Earth to observe the distant planet.
“Uranus could help astronomers better understand how more exotic objects in space, such as growing black holes and neutron stars, emit x-rays,” said Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics.
In a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, researchers are using observations from Chandra taken in 2002 and 2017.
X-rays were clearly detected from the first observation, which was recently analysed, as well as the possible flare up 15 years later according to NASA.
While x-rays from the Sun have been detected in the past bouncing off of Jupiter and Saturn, the source of Uranus’ rays remain largely a mystery.
It’s thought the new discovery could have “intriguing implications for understanding Uranus”
The gas giant is made up almost entirely of hydrogen and helium with two sets of rings wrapped around its equator.
One possible source of these x-rays is that they’re radiating out from the rings themselves like Saturn.
Auroras on the icy planet may also be emitting x-rays, like other planets such as Jupiter and Earth but they’re “less certain” about the source of Uranus’ rays.