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A surprising discovery in NASA spacecraft data

A surprising discovery in NASA spacecraft data

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from: Tanya Banner

Illustration: NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in space. © dpa / John. Howard/NASA/JPL

In data from NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, a research team found a surprise on the planet Uranus. There may also be other secrets hidden there.

Greenbelt – In August 1977, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft was launched on a long tour of space, visiting many planets on its way to the outer solar system. Eight years later, in 1986, Voyager 2 flew by the mysterious, frozen planet Uranus, about 81,000 kilometers away. During the flyby, the spacecraft collected a lot of data, among other things, two new rings and eleven previously unknown moons of Uranus were discovered.

The data collected by Voyager 2 is unique to this day, as no space probe has ever approached this planet before. But it’s clear that not all secrets have been unraveled from the data, such as the discovery by NASA researchers Gina DeBraccio and Dan Gershman. from 2019 Offers. The two examined magnetometer data from the Voyager 2 flyby and discovered a phenomenon that was already known on other planets but not seen on Uranus: a plasmid.

Researchers mine old data from NASA’s Voyager 2 probe

The plasmoid spotted by Voyager 2 was about 200,000 kilometers long and 400,000 kilometers thick and made up mostly of ionized hydrogen. Plasmoids are huge bubbles of plasma that cut through the planet and separate. They can account for a significant portion of the planet’s atmospheric mass loss. Such processes have already been observed on Earth and other planets, but at that time they were still completely unknown on the planet Uranus.

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DeBraccio and Gershman estimate that plasmoids like those observed on Uranus could be responsible for 15 to 55 percent of Uranus’ loss of atmospheric mass. However, researchers cannot use a single set of data to know how many plasmodesmaids Uranus has lost over time. The plasma was detected in a 60-second snippet of Voyager 2’s 45-hour flyby of Uranus, suggesting there may be more mysteries waiting to be uncovered in the spacecraft’s ancient data.

The mission to Uranus is on astronomy’s “wish list”.

The discovery of the plasmoid has sparked researchers’ interest about Uranus again. A mission to the planet Uranus already ranks high on the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s “Decadal Survey” — a sort of astronomy “wish list.” Researchers hope to send a groundbreaking NASA mission to Uranus, as this is one of the most exciting objects in the solar system and there are still many mysteries to be solved.

This article was generated with the help of machines and was carefully vetted by Editor Tanja Banner prior to publication.