A young Uranus was hit by a large object about twice the size of Earth in the early days of the solar system, findings of a new study have revealed.
The collision could also help explain the planet's characteristics, which include an odd tilt and freezing temperatures.
Uranus Hit By Young Protoplanet Twice The Size Of Planet Earth
In the new study published in The Astrophysical Journal, Jacob Kegerreis, from Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology, and colleagues used a high-powered supercomputer to run simulations of different impact scenarios that would recreate the conditions that shaped the evolution of Uranus.
The results confirmed findings of an earlier study, which said the tilted position of the ice giant was due to a collision with a massive object while the solar system was forming about 4 billion years ago. The object was possibly a young protoplanet about twice as massive as Earth and made of rock and ice.
"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," Kegerreis said in a statement.
Other Effects Of The Collision
The computer simulations also suggested that the debris from the impactor could form a thin shell near the edge of Uranus' ice layer, and trap heat from the planet's core. The trapping of the internal heat may help explain the extremely cold temperature of the ice giant's outer atmosphere, which scientists estimate to be about -357 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Most of the material from the impactor's rocky core falls into the core of the target." the researchers wrote in their study published on July 2. "However, for higher angular momentum impacts, significant amounts become embedded anisotropically as lumps in the ice layer."
The findings also provided an explanation for the formation of Uranus' rings and moons. The simulations suggest that the impact could have thrown rock and ice into orbit around the planet. This debris of rock and ice could have then formed into clumps that would become the planet's inner satellites and possibly changed the rotation of moons already orbiting around the planet.
The computer simulations likewise showed that the event resulted in the formation of molten ice and lumps of rocks inside the planet, which could explain the tilted and off-center magnetic field of Uranus.