Science & Astronomy
An animation shows the strange magnetic field of Uranus. The yellow arrow points toward the sun and the dark blue arrow represents the planet’s axis.
(Image: © NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Tom Bridgman)
Buried inside data that NASA’s iconic Voyager 2 spacecraft gathered at Uranus more than 30 years ago is the signature of a massive bubble that may have stolen a blob of the planet’s gassy atmosphere.That’s according to scientists who analyzed archived Voyager 2 observations of the magnetic field around Uranus. These measurements had been studied before, but only using a relatively coarse view. In the new research, scientists instead looked at those measurements every two seconds. That detail showed what had previously been missed: an abrupt zigzag in the magnetic field readings that lasted just one minute of the spacecraft’s 45-hour journey past Uranus.The tiny wobble in the Voyager 2 data represents something much larger since the spacecraft was flying so fast. Specifically, the scientists behind the new research believe the zigzag marks a plasmoid, a type of structure that wasn’t understood particularly well at the time of the flyby in January 1986.Related: Photos of Uranus, the tilted giant planetBut by now, plasmoids have earned scientists’ respect. A plasmoid is a massive bubble of plasma, which is a soup of charged particles. Plasmoids can break off from the tip of the sleeve of magnetism surrounding a planet like a teardrop. Scientists have studied these structures at Earth and nearby planets, but never at Uranus or its neighbor Neptune, since Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to date ever to visit those
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