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NASA reveals that Uranus’ twisted magnetic field releases parts of its atmosphere into space

Is Uranus leaking into space? Data hidden in the Voyager 2 spacecraft since 1986 reveals that the planet’s rotated magnetic field releases bits of its atmosphere

  • NASA re-analyzed the data from the Voyger 2’s visit to Uranus in 1986
  • The team discovered that the planet’s atmosphere is leaking through a massive plasmoid
  • The twisted magnetic field of the planet causes the magnetosphere to wobble
  • This causes parts of the atmosphere to leak into plasma bubbles
  • The bubbles, or plasmoid, are pinched as the planet moves around the sun

NASA has made a surprising discovery after analyzing data from Voyager 2’s visit to Uranus in 1986 – the magnetic bubble around the planet hits the atmosphere in space.

The atmospheric loss is due to the planet’s twisted magnetic field that causes the magnetosphere to wobble “like a badly thrown football.”

This causes parts of the atmosphere of Uranus to leak out into charged bubbles of plasma called plasmids that pinch off the magnetic field as it moves through the sun.

Scientists have determined that the plasmoid around Uranus measures about 127,000 miles by 250,000 miles and removed between 15 and 55 percent of the planet’s atmosphere from Uranus.

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NASA made a surprising discovery after analyzing data from Voyager 2's visit to Uranus in 1986 - the magnetic bubble around the planet guides the atmosphere into space

NASA made a surprising discovery after analyzing data from Voyager 2’s visit to Uranus in 1986 – the magnetic bubble around the planet guides the atmosphere into space

Scientists have long believed that magnetic fields protect the planet by keeping solar winds at bay.

However, NASA explains that they can also create funnels to release the atmosphere.

This event has been observed in both Saturn and Jupiter, making experts think Mars once experienced a loss in its atmosphere.

Gina DiBraccio, a space physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and project scientist for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN mission, said, “Mars used to be a wet planet with a thick atmosphere.”

The planet's twisted magnetic field causes the magnetosphere to wobble 'like a badly thrown football, allowing bubbles of plasma to escape that trap parts of the atmosphere. Shown is a concept drawing of the Voyager 2 spacecraft

The planet's twisted magnetic field causes the magnetosphere to wobble 'like a badly thrown football, allowing bubbles of plasma to escape that trap parts of the atmosphere. Shown is a concept drawing of the Voyager 2 spacecraft

The planet’s twisted magnetic field causes the magnetosphere to wobble ‘like a badly thrown football, allowing bubbles of plasma to escape that trap parts of the atmosphere. Shown is a concept drawing of the Voyager 2 spacecraft

“It evolved over time” – 4 billion years of leakage into space – “to become the dry planet we see today.”

However, unlike most planets, Uranus seems to hit its own drum when it turns – it’s almost perfectly on its side.

“The axis of the magnetic field is pointing 60 degrees away from that axis of rotation, so as the planet spins, the magnetosphere – the space cut out by its magnetic field – wobbles like a badly thrown football,” NASA explained in a statement.

This movement is so unique that it caught the attention of DiBraccio and her team, who extracted 34 years of data from Voyager 2’s magnetometer readings.

This information shows the strength and direction of the magnetic fields near Uranus that the vessel was flying by.

Plasmoid DiBraccio and co-author Dan Gershman, another Goddard space physicist on the project, appeared to appear in just 60 seconds of Voyager 2’s 45-hour flight past the giant planet.

The magnetic looked like a quick upward blip in the magnetometer data, Gershman said when imitated in 3D, it looks more like a cylinder.

By comparing their results to plasmids observed in Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury, they estimate a cylindrical shape at least 127,000 miles in length and up to about 250,000 miles in diameter.

And the team believes that this plasmoid, like others in space, contains charged particles – mostly ionized hydrogen.

While some plasmoids have a twisted internal magnetic field, DiBraccio and Gershman have observed smooth, closed magnetic loops.

Such loop-like plasmoids are typically shaped like a spinning planet that winds pieces of its atmosphere into space.

“Centrifugal forces take over and the plasmoid squeezes,” said Gershman.

According to their estimates, such plasmoids could account for between 15 and 55 percent of Uranus’s atmospheric mass loss, a greater proportion than Jupiter or Saturn.

HOW DOES THE MAGNETIC FIELD OF URANUS COMPARE WITH THAT OF THE EARTH?

A recent study analyzing data collected more than 30 years ago by the Voyager 2 spacecraft found that the Uranus’ global magnetosphere is nothing like Earth’s, which is known to be almost on par with the rotation axis of our planet.

A false-color representation of Uranus, captured by Hubble, is shown

A false-color representation of Uranus, captured by Hubble, is shown

A false-color representation of Uranus, captured by Hubble, is shown

According to the researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, this alignment would lead to behavior that is vastly different from what is seen on Earth.

Uranus lies and rotates on its side, tilting the magnetic field 60 degrees from its axis.

As a result, the magnetic field ‘tumbles’ asymmetrically to the solar wind.

As a result, the magnetic field ‘tumbles’ asymmetrically to the solar wind.

When the magnetosphere is open, solar wind can flow in.

But when it shuts down, it creates a shield against these particles.

The researchers suspect that the reconnection of solar wind upstream of the magnetosphere of Uranus occurs at different latitudes, causing the magnetic flux to close in different parts.

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