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Uranus’ ‘traffic jams’ could solve its weak radiation belts mystery

This 2006 image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope shows bands and a new dark spot in the Uranuss atmosphere. — Nasa/File
This 2006 image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope shows bands and a new dark spot in the Uranus’s atmosphere. — Nasa/File

Scientists may have solved a persisting mystery surrounding the ice giant Uranus and its weak radiation belts.

The belts’ weakness is possibly connected to the planet’s curiously tilted and lopsided magnetic field. Moreover, the field could be causing “traffic jams” for particles whipping around the world, reported Space.

Far before Voyager 2 left the solar system in 2018, the mystery dates back to the probe’s visit to Uranus in January 1986.

Interestingly, Uranus’s magnetic field was found to be asymmetric and tilted roughly 60° away from its spin axis by the spacecraft. Additionally, Voyager 2 found that the radiation belts of Uranus, consisting of particles trapped by this magnetic field, are about 100 times weaker than predicted.

These two strange aspects of the ice giant are suggested to be related by the new research based on simulations made using Voyager 2 data.

“It has a magnetic field like no other in the solar system. Most planets that have strong intrinsic magnetic fields, like Earth, Jupiter and Saturn. They have a very ‘traditional’ magnetic field shape, which is known as a dipole,” lead author Matthew Acevski told Space.

He added: “This is the same magnetic field shape as you would expect from your everyday bar magnet. At Uranus, this is not the case; Uranus’ field is highly asymmetric — and it becomes increasingly so closer to the planets’ surface.”

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