Scientists have discovered an unusual phenomenon in the magnetosphere of the planet Uranus – a spiral beam of plasma (plasmoid) through which the gas giant loses its atmosphere. The discovery was made when analyzing Voyager 2 data. The probe flew past Uranus in 1986, but the information transmitted by it is still used in scientific works.
According to Geophysical Research Letters, previous studies have shown that the magnetic poles of Uranus do not coincide with the geographical. As a result, its magnetic field is unstable and has a very bizarre shape.
The authors of a new scientific work studied the magnetometric data of Voyager and found a local magnetic field surge on its shadow side. He pointed to the presence of a plasma beam filled with ionized hydrogen and moving away from the gas giant. The dimensions of the formation were significant: 400 thousand kilometers in diameter and 204 thousand kilometers in length.
Similar plasmoids are formed on Earth. It is estimated that because of them, our planet loses about 90 tons of atmospheric matter per day. For us, such losses are imperceptible. But if they last billions of years, then catastrophe will inevitably come. According to scientists, Mars lost its atmosphere and turned into an icy desert precisely due to similar processes.
The authors of the scientific work noted that they first found a plasmoid in the ice giant. The discovery not only explains the reason for the loss of its mass, but also indicates the importance of internal processes for the evolution of Uranus.
“The magnetosphere controls the evolution of the planet, suppressing or increasing the loss of the atmosphere into space,” they explained.