Uranus is a lopsided planet. Scientists now think a rock twice as big as Earth might have crashed into the ice-giant. Therefore, causing it to spin on its side.

Uranus is an ice giant that spins at a 98-degree angle. Every other planet spins on a vertical axis in relation to its orbit. Even more strange, the planet’s magnetic field is even set at a tilt.

Jacob Kegerreis, a Ph.D. researcher at Durham University, presented the analysis that a giant rock collided with Uranus. Thus, causing it to tilt dramatically, affecting its spin, its magnetic field, and even its heat distribution.

Even more interesting is the fact that this same object may still be residing somewhere in the solar system. Som researchers speculate is the missing planet X, now still circling the sun well beyond Pluto.

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. Results show the impact would have been catastrophic.

The computer simulations also show that the collision and reshaping of Uranus—maybe enveloping some or all of the rock that hit it—happened in a matter of hours, Kegerreis said.

The Collision

The collision happened 3 billion to 4 billion years ago, likely before the larger moons of Uranus formed. Instead, there was a disk of stuff that would eventually come together to form moons. And when that happened, Uranus’ odd tilt acted like a gravity tidal force pushing those five large moons to the same tilt, Kegerreis said.

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.

Uranus and Neptune “are definitely the least understood planets,” Sheppard said.

So, there’s still a lot to learn about Uranus.

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Thumbnail image: This image made from video provided by Durham University astronomy researcher Jacob Kegerreis shows a computer simulation generated by the open-source code SWIFT. It depicts an object crashing into the planet Uranus. Credit: Jacob A. Kegerreis/Durham University via AP


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