Voyager probed Uranus. Now Hubble can't stop staring at it.steemCreated with Sketch.

in #news4 years ago

Uranus is beautiful. Big, round, just hanging there for all of us to look at - with NASA's assistance, of course. This most pun-worthy of planets is essentially a big ball of ice that somehow ended up on its side, which is why, unlike big brother Saturn, its rings are practically vertical and faint in comparison.


"Are my rings showing?" Source

We've had great views of Uranus ever since the Voyager probe went by in the 1980s by Voyager 2 on its way to become a Star Trek villain. V'ger beamed back a slew of images of the distant planet and a slew of its moons, igniting the imaginations of nerds across the globe.

Since then, Uranus has pretty much stayed out of the spotlight - it probably saw what happened to Pluto and decided to keep its mouth shut. Well, NASA called up the Hubble Space Telescope, that old warhorse that's been going for decades, directed its big, unblinking eye at Uranus - and discovered that Uranus winked back.

It turns out that Uranus, much like Jupiter, Saturn, and here on Earth, has an aurora problem. Little swirls of electromagnetic luminescence were caught dotting the planet's surface, providing a show for anyone with the right equipment to see.

This was pretty exciting for planetary astronomers. It's no surprise that two more Hubble studies occurred, both in 2012 and 2014, this time spearheaded by a French scientist from Paris Observatory, using the giant orbital telescope's ultraviolet imaging capabilities. Turns out Voyager 2 just wasn't powerful enough to capture these things itself when it passed by.


"Voyager, what are you doing?" "My best." Source

The team made some excellent discoveries. They tracked the interplanetary shockwaves caused by a pair of powerful solar wind bursts that ripped through the Solar System on their way to to Uranus, then used the Hubble to see how that wind affected the planet's auroras.

The team watched the auroras as those blasts of radiation hit Uranus, discovering that as the planet rotates, the auroras rotate with it. Not only that, but they were able to pinpoint Uranus' "missing" magnetic poles, which scientists had been hunting for since Voyager 2 spotted them briefly in 1986.

So what's the moral of the story, besides how Uranus and breaking wind go hand in hand? Well, first it's evidence that I'm incredibly juvenile and I can't let a good pun die on the operating table. But more importantly it goes to show how we're still discovering new things about our own Solar System every day, using new and better technologies to uncover additional secrets about or own galactic back yard. Who knows what the future brings?


I am five years old.


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