Uranus Struck By Massive Object That Changed it Forever

The study highlights how a massive object had strong impact on the evolution of Uranus some 4 billion years ago.
Kashyap Vyas

Uranus is distinctive from other planets in our solar system. Unlike other planets that have an upright spin, Uranus has a tilted spin and is approximately 90 degrees apart from the vertical spin axis.

Because of its unusual spin model, Uranus has a very weird magnetic field around it. Scientists call it the strobe effect where Uranus is able to switch its magnetic field on and off at regular intervals.

This is because the planet’s magnetic field is off-centered by about 60 degrees. In addition, the planet is extremely cold, but according to its placement in our solar system, it should be warmer.

Uranus has the coldest atmosphere among the planets in our solar system. The tilt of the planet makes its movement around the sun a bit peculiar. While the planet revolves around the sun, the tilt makes one of the pole to point against the sun.

Since Uranus takes 84 years to go around the sun, one pole is warmer, and the other pole will stay in extremely cold temperatures for about 40 years. The core of the planet is also one of the coldest among solar system.

This special trait of Uranus left scientists and researchers scratching their heads since long. However, we may have an answer now!

Researchers from the Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, ran high-resolution computer simulations to get to the core of things. The results showed that billions of years ago, young Uranus suffered a collision from another space body roughly twice the size of earth.

The research also confirms a previous study that the tilt of Uranus was a result of a collision with a massive object during the formation of our solar system about 4 billion years ago.

“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,” said Jacob Kegerreis, Ph.D. and the lead author of the research.


The high-resolution computer simulations of different massive collisions with the ‘Ice Giant’ helped the researchers to understand how the impact affected the evolution of the planet.

“We ran more than 50 different impact scenarios using a high-powered supercomputer to see if we could recreate the conditions that shaped the planet’s evolution, Kegerreis added. “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 the process the events that helped create the planet we see today.”

The simulations also suggest a possible reason for the formation of rings and moons around the planet. The collision must have sent the debris into space making them join and form the ring, thanks to the planets magnetic field.

Also, the long-standing question of how Uranus managed to retain its atmosphere after a massive collision can be explained with the simulations performed by the researchers. The impacting object struck only a grazing blow on the Ice Giant, which did cause the planet to tilt. However, the planet was able to retain the majority of its atmosphere after the collision.

The findings of this research are published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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