Literally Earth-Shattering: New Evidence From Cosmologists Shows A Violent Planetary Collision Completely Changed The Planet Uranus

Thursday, 05 July 2018 - 1:07PM
Space
Solar System
Thursday, 05 July 2018 - 1:07PM
Literally Earth-Shattering: New Evidence From Cosmologists Shows A Violent Planetary Collision Completely Changed The Planet Uranus
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Like the formation of Earth's Moon, Uranus' radical tilt has been a mystery for decades. The planet is so skewed that its equator sits almost at a right angle to the rest of the planets in the solar system.

Some scientists believe the planet was hit with several small impacts that knocked it off balance, while others claim that there were no micro-impacts at all – instead, they blame a lost moon.

The general consensus, however, is that Uranus had one big run-in with a larger-than-Earth protoplanet early on in its history, and that collision was powerful enough to tilt it. Now, new simulations from Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology have backed that theory up in a major way. According to Jacob Kegerreis, the lead author on the new research:

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"We ran more than 50 different impact scenarios using a high-powered supercomputer 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 onto its side and setting in process the events that helped create the planet we see today."
Closing quote


The blow wasn't a direct hit, however. According to Kegerreis' simulations, the protoplanet glanced off Uranus with just enough force to tilt it, but not completely destroy the atmosphere. In the aftermath, the debris from this impact probably formed a shell that sealed in the planet's heat, causing its upper atmosphere to become extremely cold and creating the current climate. This collision is estimated to have taken place 4 billion years ago, when the Earth was still being bombarded by millions of asteroids and watching its oceans repeatedly boil off.

In addition to bolstering the case for a single-impact hypothesis, this research may also help scientists understand how early collisions affect the development of life on other planets.

According to Dr. Luis Teodoro, also involved in the new study: "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."

In other words, we're one step closer to finding our extraterrestrial summer home.
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