For the first time, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has snapped photos of auroras lighting up Uranus's icy atmosphere, reported National Geographic. Two short-lived, Earth-sized storms — also known as Northern Lights — were captured by astronomers as they lit up on the day side of the gas giant in November 2011.
Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, is known for being a bit of an oddball. According to Wired, at some unknown point in its past, the planet was knocked on its side. Its "North Pole" is now the area most planets' equators call home.
The newly found auroras appear to be tiny white dots in Hubble photos. While Earth's auroras appear as giant green curtains of light and can last hours, the new auroras seen on Uranus are fairly small and didn't last more than a few minutes.
"The last time we had any definite signals of auroral activity on Uranus was when NASA's Voyager 2 probe swung by in 1986," said study leader Laurent Lamy, an astronomer at the Observatoire de Paris in Meudon, France, to National Geographic. "But this is the first time we can actually see these emissions light up with an Earth-based telescope."
Conditions on Uranus were very different when Voyager flew past the planet in 1986. According to Wired, its magnetic north pole was facing straight into the solar wind at the time, creating longer lasting auroras that were mainly located on the night side, similar to observations of Earth's Northern Lights.
Now that Uranus has entered its spring equinox season, its axis is perpendicular to the sun's flow of charged particles, which astronomers think is responsible for the strange auroras captured by Hubble.
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