Uranus 4 billion years ago
Uranus 4 billion years ago

All the planets of the solar system are more or less oriented in the same way, with the North and the South pointing in the same direction. Uranus is the exception. The north-south axis of the frozen planet is tilted 98 degrees from the orbital plane of the Sun. One of the poles of the planet is permanently oriented towards the sun. It is so strange that we were clear that there was no way it would have happened by itself and now astronomers believe they have discovered the answer.

What happened is that at some time 4 billion years ago, the planet Uranus was hit on its side by a planet about twice the mass of Earth. This impact was so colossal (or perhaps several small collisions) that has been considered as the most plausible reason that Uranus is orbiting the Sun in this particular way that makes in the 84 years it takes to travel their journey around the Sun , first one pole of the planet is illuminated and 42 years later, the other.

Until now we knew very little about how, when and what other effects this collision had on the distant planet that is about 3 billion kilometers from the Sun.

To find answers, researchers have used computer simulations, placing objects of various sizes in a Uranus model and observing the results.

Uranus turns sideways

“We executed more than 50 different impact scenarios using a high-powered supercomputerto see if we could recreate the conditions that shaped the evolution of the planet,” said physicist Jacob Kegerreis of the University of Durham (UK), leader of the work. “Our findings confirm that the most likely outcome was that the young Uranus was involved in a catastrophic collision with an object that doubled the mass of the Earth.” 

The event probably occurred about 4,000 million years ago, during the early stages of the solar system. And such a cataclysm can clearly explain other unusual aspects about Uranus.

How did you manage to maintain your atmosphere when what you should expect from a violent collision is to send it into space?

According to the simulations, this can be explained by the impact of the object hitting the planet. The collision was strong enough to affect Uranus’ inclination, but the planet was able to retain most of its atmosphere.

The impact could throw rocks and ice into orbit around the planet. These materials could have been grouped to form the planet’s internal satellites and perhaps altered the rotation of the pre-existing moons that orbit Uranus. 

Simulations show that the impact could have created molten ice and slanted rock blocks within the planet. This could help explain the tilted and off-center magnetic field of Uranus.

The presented model certainly seems to answer all the doubts about the planet, which is amazing, because learning more about Uranus and how it became so strange can help us to understand the evolution of other planets of the same nature that exist in the universe, because Uranus is similar to the most common type of planets that we can find outside of our solar system.

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