Uranus’ Strange Tilt Is Caused By A Massive Collision

Posted: Dec 25 2018, 11:27am CST | by , Updated: Dec 25 2018, 11:40am CST, in Latest Science News


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Uranus’ Strange Tilt is Caused by a Massive Collision
The image highlights the extent to which Uranus is lopsided. Credit: NASA

Computer simulations suggest that Uranus was hit by a rock twice as big as Earth 4 billion years ago.

Uranus is the only planet in our solar system that rotates on its side. The massive planet is tilted at an angle of about 90 degrees. For comparison, Earth's axis is tilted 23 degrees from the orbital plane around the Sun. This also means that Uranus has the most extreme seasons in the solar system.

Recently, researchers have investigated what caused Uranus’s unusual tilt and how the event impacted the planet's evolution. They used computer simulations to reconstruct various impact scenarios in which different objects would have collided with the planet and concluded that Uranus was knocked on its side by a massive rock. The collision happened 3 billion to 4 billion years ago, during the formation of solar system and likely sent Uranus into its sideways spin. The research confirms a previous study which said that Uranus' tilted position is the result of a collision with a massive object roughly twice the size of Earth.

The computer simulations further suggest that the collision and reshaping of Uranus happened in a matter of hours and it is also possible that the enormous rock that crashed into the Uranus is still lurking in the solar system but somewhere beyond our sight. Researchers say that Uranus' odd tilt acted like a gravity tidal force and also pushed its five largest moons to the same tilt.

“It would explain some of the orbits of the planet and fit with a theory that a missing planet X is circling the sun well beyond Pluto.” NASA chief scientist Jim Green said.

Uranus is an oddball in the solar system. Besides its highly tilted axis, Uranus’ magnetic field is also lopsided and doesn't go out the poles like our Earth’s does. The planet also has rings but they are faint ones. Unlike any other planet, Uranus’s interior heat does not escape from the core. The trapping of this internal heat is likely responsible for the extremely cold temperature in the planet's outer atmosphere.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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