Published: Sat, July 07, 2018
Science | By Joan Schultz

Tech: 'Cataclysmic' collision shaped Uranus' evolution

Tech: 'Cataclysmic' collision shaped Uranus' evolution

As reported by, it seems like Uranus collided with a massive celestial object, one that was roughly twice the size of Earth.

A new study led by a team of astronomers from the University of Durham has found that a massive collision could explain several features of the planet's long evolution through the years. Most likely, the collision happened about 4 billion years ago. Also, according to the researchers, debris from the foreign object could have formed a shell close to the edge of Uranus' ice layer and thus could have captured the heat that was emanating from the planet's core. This rock and ice was to be minted together to sort the planet's internal satellites and possibly existed in the orbit of Uranus any pre-existing moon spin was turned to.

The simulations show that the impact could have created molten ice and lopsided lumps of rock inside the planet. It also explains the planet's off-centre magnetic field. This could at least partially explain why Uranus' outer atmosphere is extremely cold.

He said: "Uranus spins on its side, with its axis pointing nearly at right angles to those of all the other planets in the solar system". He added, "This was nearly 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".

Scientists from Durham University in the United Kingdom have modeled more than 50 different collision scenarios of Uranium with other objects in an attempt to restore every detail and the conditions for the birth of the planet. This new study suggests that an object twice the size of Earth could have hit Uranus, which might shed some light on some of the questions that we had about the seventh planet from the Sun. It concluded that a glancing-but-violent strike could have provided the conditions now witnessed on the planet without sending it hurtling into space. Astronomers at Durham University, UK, led an global team of experts to probe how Uranus happened to tilt on its side and what repercussions a massive impact would have taken place on the planet's evolution. That would explain how the impact was enough to tilt the planet, but not enough to destroy its atmosphere. Lead author Jacob Kegerreis, PhD researcher in Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology, said that Uranus rotates on its side in a tilting position, with its axis directing nearly at right angles of all other planets in the solar system.

Study co-author, Dr Luis Teodoro of the NASA Ames Research Center, said: "All the evidence points to giant impacts being frequent during planet formation, and with this kind of research we are now gaining more insight into their effect on potentially habitable exoplanets".

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