Perhaps you know one of the most peculiar characteristics of Uranus: the planet turns on its side and its moons orbit in that same plane or sense. New evidence gives more strength to the theory that Uranus suffered a gigantic collision, which resulted in its inclined orientation and perhaps also explains some of the other mysteries of the planet.
A new study conducted a series of simulations on Uranus shortly after its formation, analyzing the consequences that a great impact could have had on its rotation, atmosphere and internal structure. The impact could have left clear traces still visible inside the planet we see today.
Uranus really is a very strange planet. Not only does it rotate on an axis that is at an angle of 98 degrees with respect to its orbital plane, but, unlike other giant planets, it does not seem to release more heat than it receives from the Sun. In addition, its magnetic field seems misshapen in comparison with Earth. An impact could help explain some of these strange traits.
Scientists have been simulating giant impacts on Uranus since the early 1990s, according to the new study published in the Astrophysical Journal. This time, the researchers built a simulation using the newest and most accurate data on the composition of the planet. This allowed them to model how the impact of a gigantic object, perhaps one to three times the mass of the Earth, would have deposited “material and energy within Uranus”, and the amount of remains that would remain, from which moons could form.
“This study provides some new insights into what could have happened billions of years ago with the material left over from the impact, which could even serve to trap some of the planet’s heat,” Leigh Fletcher told Gizmodo , a member of the Royal Society Research Fellow of the University of Leicester, England.
But this is just a simulation, and as a scientific saying goes: all the models are defective, but some are very interesting. The models can not tell us exactly what happened; Much more data will be needed to fully understand the history of Uranus. “What we need next is a robotic mission to explore Uranus and its diverse satellite system,” said Fletcher. “The mapping of gravitational, atmospheric and magnetic fields, similar to what we have done in Jupiter with Juno and in Saturn with Cassini, could provide some new clues to better understand these models, by unlocking the secrets of the interior of the planet for the first time” .
Uranus is a true mystery. Is humanity finally going to explore it?