Uranus has always been a bit of an oddball in our solar system and a new simulation presented by a group of researchers might explain why.
Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, is a peculiar ice giant that is tilted at a 98-degree angle — while every other planet spins on a vertical axis in relation to its orbit, Uranus spins on a horizontal axis. Researchers suggest that this may have been caused by a massive collision.
Jacob Kegerreis, a PhD researcher at Durham University, presented the analysis that a huge rock, possibly the size of a small planet, collided with Uranus, causing it to tilt dramatically, affecting its spin, its magnetic field, and even its heat distribution.
Kegerreis and his fellow researchers created a high-resolution simulation to show exactly what this would have looked like 3 to 4 billion years ago. The impact would have been catastrophic.
Along with affecting the planet’s tilt, the impact event may have also spurred on the development of Uranus’s thick icy outer layer, which keeps the heat from planet’s core locked inside. Uranus is the only planet in our solar system that doesn’t leak heat from its core, reaching temperatures of -371 degrees Fahrenheit at some of its chilliest points.
The impact likely caused Uranus’s larger moons and rings, which orbit in line with its rotation, to gain their unique path as well.
There is still quite a bit to learn about Uranus, considering only one probe has taken a close look at the planet, and that was the Voyager 2 in 1986.