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Uranus' Strange Magnetosphere Switches Open and Closed, Letting in Solar Wind

New research on Uranus' magnetosphere could help scientists learn about distant systems, and refine the ways they search for alien life.

Uranus' Strange Magnetosphere Switches Open and Closed, Letting in Solar Wind

Uranus has a “switch-like” magnetosphere that opens and closes once every rotation of the planet, exposing it to deadly solar winds, according to researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US.


The findings could help scientists understand the mechanics of distant systems, and refine the ways they search for alien life.

First, what exactly is a magnetosphere?

A magnetosphere is the region of space around an object in which charged particles are controlled by that object’s magnetic field. Earth’s magnetosphere shields us from the solar wind – the continual stream of charged particles that flows from the upper atmosphere of the sun – by deflecting the radiation. Without a magnetosphere, radiation would destroy Earth's atmosphere and make it impossible for life and liquid water to exist.

Here's an artists' rendering of Earth's magnetosphere:

Radical innovation: Unlocking the future of human invention

Ready to see the future? Nanotronics CEO Matthew Putman talks innovation and the solutions that are right under our noses.

Big Think LIVE

Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.

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Dark Forest theory: A terrifying explanation of why we haven’t heard from aliens yet

The Fermi paradox asks us where all the aliens are if the cosmos should be filled with them. The Dark Forest theory says we should pray we never find them.

If this theory is correct, the day after contact would look like this. (Pixababy)
Surprising Science

The Milky Way galaxy has 200 billion stars and perhaps 100 billion planets. If even a small fraction of those planets harbored life, and even if only a pathetic scattering of those planets had lifeforms which became intelligent, our galaxy would be teeming with alien civilizations, some of whom would be either looking for us or discoverable for at least a little while.

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Russia claims world's first COVID-19 vaccine but skepticism abounds

President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced coronavirus vaccine at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.

Credit: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Coronavirus
  • Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday that a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved in Russia.
  • Scientists around the world are worried that the vaccine is unsafe and that Russia fast-tracked the vaccine without performing the necessary phase 3 trials.
  • To date, Russia has had nearly 900,000 registered cases of coronavirus.
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    Therapy app Talkspace mined user data for marketing insights, former employees allege

    A report from the New York Times raises questions over how the teletherapy startup Talkspace handles user data.

    Talkspace.com
    Technology & Innovation
    • In the report, several former employees said that "individual users' anonymized conversations were routinely reviewed and mined for insights."
    • Talkspace denied using user data for marketing purposes, though it acknowledged that it looks at client transcripts to improve its services.
    • It's still unclear whether teletherapy is as effective as traditional therapy.
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    Mind & Brain

    Viewing abstract art causes notable cognitive changes

    Viewing art that doesn't look like anything makes your brain take extra steps to try and get it.

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