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The Magnetic Field Of Uranus Flips On And Off Everyday Like A Light Switch

First Posted: Jun 29, 2017 03:24 AM EDT
Uranus Magnetosphere
Uranus’ magnetic field behaves quite like a light switch, scientists have discovered.
(Photo : Top10Archive/YouTube screenshot)

The magnetic field of Uranus flips on and off like a switch everyday as the ice giant planet rotates. The discovery was made by scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The data gathered from NASA’s Voyager 2 helped with the detection. Incidentally, the spacecraft had flown by the planet in 1986. The experts also used numerical models to mimic Uranus’ global magnetosphere and to predict favorable reconnection locations.

"The magnetosphere is 'open' in one orientation, allowing solar wind to flow into the magnetosphere; it later closes, forming a shield against the solar wind and deflecting it away from Uranus," the research team said, as Futurity reported. This makes the magnetosphere of Uranus much different from that of Earth.

Earth’s magnetosphere usually only changes between open and closed in response to solar wind changes. The same alignment of Earth’s magnetosphere is always looking toward the Sun; therefore, the magnetic field in the solar wind alters direction to reconfigure the planet’s field from closed to open. Such an occurrence frequently takes place during powerful solar storms.

Meanwhile, the seventh planet from the Sun lies and rotates on its side. Moreover, its magnetic field is lopsided as it tilts 60 degrees from its axis and is off-centered. This lopsidedness makes the magnetic field tumble asymmetrically, relative to the solar wind direction, as Uranus completes its full rotation. The planet’s fast rotational change in orientation and field strength results in a periodic on-off-on-off situation as it goes through the solar wind.

According to Deccan Chronicle, the research team has suggested that such a scenario of less aligned magnetic fields and unique magnetospheres, as seen in Uranus, could be the norm for planets. Furthermore, the study of such complex magnetospheres that protect exoplanets from stellar radiation is important to know more about the habitability of such worlds.

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