Get this: The atmosphere of Uranus is leaking gas into space. Scientists discovered the presence of a plasmoid while looking through Voyager 2 data. But what is a plasmoid and what does this development mean for the 7th planet from the Sun?
While leaky atmospheres are actually not that uncommon, this discovery is the first time a plasmoid has been detected in connection with Uranus. The data comes from the historic Voyager 2 trip to the icy planet in 1986, though scientists just realized the presence of the plasmoid, a pocket of atmospheric material emitting from Uranus by the planet's magnetic field, more than 2 decades later.
The data from the mission shows that Uranus ejected a mass of electrically excited gas roughly 30 times wider than Earth’s diameter.
But the discovery reveals more than just the fact that Uranus’ atmosphere is leaking—it also helps scientists better understand the planet’s mysterious twisted magnetic field.
Find out more about Uranus’ leaky atmosphere and what it means for the planet’s future in this Elements.
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The Atmosphere of Uranus Is Literally Leaking Gas Into Space
It's the first time a plasmoid has been spotted in connection with an ice giant, and it doesn't just show us that Uranus' atmosphere is leaking. It's also revealing some of the dynamics of this planet's peculiar, twisted magnetic field.
Uranus blasted a gas bubble 22,000 times bigger than Earth
Plasmoids are charged globs of atmosphere blown out into space when the solar wind whips around planets. Losing such blobs can dramatically transform a world over a long period of time, and studying them can provide insight into how planets live and die. Researchers have spotted them pinching off from various planets, but the magnetic belch Voyager 2 sailed through was a first for Uranus. “We expected that Uranus would likely have plasmoids; however, we didn't know exactly what they would look like,” DiBraccio says.
New Find Shows Uranus Loses Atmosphere to its Magnetic Field
Though Voyager only made a brief 60 second transit through the plasmoid bubble, the implied dimensions were stunning: with a cylindrical volume of 127,000 miles (204,000 kilometers) wide by 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) long, the bubble would stretch from Earth to the Moon.