Auroras on Uranus tell about the possibility of life on the ice giants

Scientists studied the auroras on Uranus in detail. They take place in an unusual place and in the infrared part of the spectrum. These phenomena noticeably heat up the planet and lead scientists to believe that life may be more widespread in space than we thought.

Auroras on Uranus. Source: NASA, ESA and M. Showalter

Auroras on Uranus

A group of scientists led by Emma Thomas from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester investigated auroras on Uranus. Rather, they were interested in their infrared variety, since ultraviolet ones have been observed on the planet since the 1980s.

The magnetic fields of Neptune and Uranus are a big problem for scientists. As a result of some not very clear processes, they do not coincide at all with their axis of rotation. On Earth, we can study them thanks to the auroras. Charged particles are deflected by lines of force to the poles, where they enter the atmosphere and generate a glow in the optical range. 

Something similar should happen on Uranus, only the place of the appearance of the aurora will not be at the geographical pole at all, and it will occur in the infrared part of the spectrum. The reason for this is the atmosphere of the giant planet, which, unlike the earth, consists not of nitrogen and oxygen but of hydrogen and helium.

Magnetic fields and life in the Universe

In the latest research, the Keck II telescope was used. The spectrograph installed on it allowed not only to confirm the existence of infrared auroras on Uranus, but also to identify the emission lines of individual elements. One of them, belonging to an ionized hydrogen molecule, turned out to be unexpectedly wide.

This indicates that the atmosphere of the planet in the area of the aurora is heated more than it should be. Researchers draw a number of important conclusions from all this. A number of them are supposed to concern the planets in the solar system. Scientists have made sure that the magnetic fields of ice giants, despite their unusual configuration, effectively redistribute energy from charged particles.

Also, these observations may be useful in studies of what can happen on Earth if its magnetic poles begin to change more than they are now. Perhaps this will somehow affect the climate.

But the most interesting conclusion concerns exoplanets. A significant number of them are super-Earths or ice giants that are far from their luminaries. According to their characteristics, they are very similar to Uranus and Neptune. Scientists suggest that their magnetic fields are arranged similarly.

If this is the case, then they can not only protect cold planets from powerful flares, often observed on red dwarfs, but also turn their energy into heat. Thus, the conditions on them may be more favorable for life than previously thought.

According to

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