Uranus is leaking its atmosphere into space, NASA data shows

After revisiting decades-old data from the Voyager 2 flyby in Jan 1986, NASA scientists have found a shocking discovery.

The analysis has revealed a “zigzag” in the magnetic data, just lasting one minute in the Voyager 2’s 45-hour flyby.

The zigzag was previously not detected as the data was not analyzed in detail, and just looked at as an overview.

Scientists believe that the zigzag represents a plasmoid, a type of structure that was not well understood in 1986.

A plasmoid is a bubble of plasma or charged particles. Plasmoids are present at the edge of a planet’s magnetic sleeve and are known to pull charged particles out of a planet’s atmosphere into space.

The new observations from the magnetic data of the Voyager 2 flyby reveals that a plasmoid release was likely during that zigzag, and a part of Uranus’s atmosphere was probably pulled along into space.

However, the data is not enough to make concrete conclusions.

NASA researcher Gina DiBraccio says in a new press release, “Imagine if one spacecraft just flew through this room and tried to characterize the entire Earth. Obviously it’s not going to show you anything about what the Sahara or Antarctica is like.”

The plasmoid phenomena from Uranus is especially important as the planet has a unique axis of rotation, perpendicular to other planets in our solar system.

This revelation is important for our understanding of other planets as well.

Mars wasn’t always dry and barren, and NASA believes that plasmoids were responsible for the slow change in Mars’s atmosphere.

Unfortunately, in order to learn more about these plasmoid escapes at Uranus, we need to send another spacecraft on an eight-year journey to observe it.

Gina DiBraccio, a space physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and project scientist for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution says, “Mars used to be a wet planet with a thick atmosphere. It evolved over time” — 4 billion years of leakage to space — “to become the dry planet we see today.”


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