Voyager 2 Captured Massive Gas Blob in Uranus’ Magnetic Field

NASA‘s Voyager 2 spacecraft, the second probe to enter interstellar space, collected a massive amount of information about Uranus more than 30 years ago, and among it, there is an image of a magnetic bubble that may have absorbed a blob of the planet‘s gassy atmosphere.

That is as per researchers who investigated archived observations made by the spacecraft of the magnetic field surrounding Uranus. These calculations have been analyzed before, but only utilizing a relatively broad view.

In the new study, scientists instead investigated those measurements every two seconds, which showed what had earlier been neglected: a sudden zigzag in the magnetic field data that lasted for only one minute of the Voyager 2’s 45-hour trajectory past Uranus.

The small oscillation in the data depicts something much larger since the probe was flying at high speed. More precisely, the researchers looking at the data believe that the zigzag marks are plasmoid, which is a kind of structure that was not understood specifically well at the time of the flyby in January 1986.

Studying Plasmoids For a Better Understanding

Plasmoids are gigantic bubbles of plasma, which is a mix of charged particles. These compositions can break off from the tip of the edge of magnetism surrounding a planet like a teardrop.

Researchers have analyzed these structures at Earth and close planets, but never at Uranus or Neptune, its closest neighbor, since Voyager 2 is the only probe to have ever visited those planets.

Researchers want to learn more about plasmoids because these compositions are able to pull charged particles from a planet’s atmosphere and throw them into space. If a planet’s atmosphere is charged automatically, this means the planet itself is charged.

Uranus’ situation is specifically complicated due to the fact that the planet orbits on its side and its magnetic field are asymmetric from both axis and the level all the planets are located on. Researchers would put together more data on Uranus’ magnetic field, enough to better learn how this event has formed the planet in time. That will require another probe to visit the place.

The study is described in a paper published in August of 2019 in the journal Geophysical Review Letters. NASA only announced the findings on Wednesday, March 25th.

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