An astronomy researcher has explained Uranus is lopsided because it was smashed by a massive rock. You read that right.
The seventh planet from the sun is different to all the other planets in our solar system because of the unique way it spins. The huge planet, along with its five largest moons, spin lopsidedly as they tilt around 90 degrees on their side.
As well as being lopsided, the ice giant is the only planet which doesn’t have its interior heat escape from the core.
According to the Metro, NASA chief scientist Jim Green explained, along with the planet itself, Uranus’ magnetic field is also tilted, and it doesn’t go out of the poles like the magnetic field on Earth.
The planet has rings like Saturn, though they’re only faint.
This month, Durham University astronomy researcher Jacob Kegerreis appeared at a large Earth and space conference, where he presented detailed computer simulations showing how an enormous rock crashed into Uranus.
According to the university’s website, astronomers at the university led an international team of experts in research into the planet’s history, where they aimed to investigate how it came to be tilted, and what consequences a giant impact would’ve had on its evolution.
To try to work out how Uranus evolved, the team ran the first high-resolution computer simulations of different massive collisions with the ice giant.
Lead author Kegerreis explained:
Uranus spins on its side, with its axis pointing almost at right angles to those of all the other planets in the solar system.
This was almost certainly caused by a giant impact, but we know very little about how this actually happened and how else such a violent event affected the planet.
We ran more than 50 different impact scenarios using a high-powered super computer to see if we could recreate the conditions that shaped the planet’s evolution.
Our findings confirm that the most likely outcome was that the young Uranus was involved in a cataclysmic collision with an object twice the mass of Earth, if not larger, knocking it on to its side and setting in process the events that helped create the planet we see today.
The research showed Uranus’ tilted position was caused by a collision with a massive object; most likely a young proto-planet made of rock and ice.
The crash is thought to have happened during the formation of the solar system about four billion years ago, and according to Kegerreis, the simulations show the collision and reshaping of the ice giant happened in a matter of hours.
Green explained the huge object which knocked the planet off-kilter could still be floating around in the solar system somewhere, too far away for us to see.
He also said it’s possible a lot of smaller space rocks were actually responsible for Uranus’ tilt, but the research from Durham points instead to a single huge object.
Kegerreis went on to explain the collision is likely to have happened before the larger moons of Uranus formed.
When they did form, the tilt of the planet acted like a gravity tidal force and pushed the moons to the same tilt.
The computer simulations also suggested debris from the object which crashed into Uranus, could have formed a thin shell near the edge of the planet’s ice layer, which serves to trap the heat emanating from Uranus’ core.
The researchers said the trapping of this internal heat could help to explain the extremely cold temperature of the planet’s outer atmosphere.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.