Gas is escaping from Uranus, a new study has found. Image Credit: NASA
A new analysis of data from NASA's Voyager 2 mission has revealed that the atmosphere of Uranus is leaking.
The ice giant Uranus is perhaps the most unique of all the planets in our solar system thanks to its peculiar tilt which sees it rotate on an axis set almost 90 degrees off of the orbital plane of the Sun.
Now scientists studying data collected in 1986 during Voyager 2's historic flyby of Uranus have revealed the discovery of a plasmoid - the first ever found in connection with a planet of this type.
The phenomenon is essentially a pocket of the planet's atmosphere that is being funnelled away into space by its magnetic field - a process known as atmospheric escape.
It's the same process that ultimately caused Mars, which was once thought to have an atmosphere similar to the Earth, to end up as the dry, barren wasteland we see today.
Many worlds, including the Earth, are leaking their atmospheres, albeit at varying rates.
While the discovery is a big deal for scientists trying to better understand Uranus and its rather chaotic magnetosphere, learning more is likely to necessitate another robotic mission to the planet itself.
"The nature of magnetospheric circulation and mass-loss processes remain outstanding and essential topics at both Uranus and Neptune," the researchers wrote.
"In order to definitively determine the relative contributions of planetary rotation and solar wind forcing in driving global plasma dynamics, new in situ measurements will be necessary."
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