'Cataclysmic' collisions shaped evolution of Uranus

A new study suggests that calaclysmic collisions likely caused Uranus' tilt and freezing temperatures.
By Tyler MacDonald | Jul 03, 2018
Researchers suggest that Uranus was hit by an object approximately twice the size of Earth, causing the planet to tilt and dip into freezing temperatures. The team used high-resolution computer simulations to examine the various different collisions of the giant, icy planet and shed light on its evolution.

The results confirm previous research that suggests that Uranus' tilt was the result of a collision with a massive object during the formation of the Milky Way approximately 4 billion years ago.

In addition, the simulations suggest that debris from the impact likely created a thin shell near the edge of the planet's layer of ice, trapping heat from Uranus' core and providing an explanation for the cold temperatures in its outer atmosphere.

"Uranus spins on its side, with its axis pointing almost at right angles to those of all the other planets in the solar system," said Jacob Kegerreis, lead author of the study. "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 findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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