First-ever X-rays from Uranus have 'intriguing implications', astronomers say

Uranus. Photo credit: Getty

For the first time, astronomers have detected X-rays coming from Uranus - the planet, to be precise.

Looking at data collected by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which orbits the Earth more than 100,000km into space, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics saw a "clear detection of X-rays" from the faraway planet.

While X-rays from the Sun have been detected bouncing off other planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, not all of those from Uranus can be explained in this way.

"There are tantalizing hints that at least one other source of X-rays is present," the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said in a statement

"If further observations confirm this, it could have intriguing implications for understanding Uranus."

They suspect the planet's rings could be the source, or perhaps auroras like we have on Earth. 

It could even help explain some of the mysteries surrounding Uranus which have perplexed scientists since its discovery in 1781. 

"While the rotation and magnetic field axes of the other planets of the solar system are almost perpendicular to the plane of their orbit, the rotation axis of Uranus is nearly parallel to its path around the Sun. 

"Furthermore, while Uranus is tilted on its side, its magnetic field is tilted by a different amount, and offset from the planet's centre." 

The only human-made spacecraft to visit Uranus was Voyager 2 in 1986. Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 is now in interstellar space and still in contact with NASA here on Earth. It's slightly behind Voyager 1, despite being launched first.