Taking a Closer Look at the Protoplanet that hit Uranus

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According to a new paper, it seems that there is a chance we can still find some evidence of the disastrous impact that shaped the coldest planet in our solar system, Uranus. This might give us some answers about the evolution of the ice giant.

The tilted planet

Similar to Venus, Uranus orbits in retrograde. Its inclination is 98 degrees, which makes the planet orbit on its side, and its heat flux is lower than our planet’s. If we take a look at the giant’s magnetic field, we can see that it is quite unusual, as it is tilted 59 degrees from the axis of rotation. Also, because unlike Earth, Uranus’ magnetic field does not pass through its center, the field is extremely asymmetrical. In order to explain this, scientists state that at least one protoplanet crashed into Uranus a few billions years ago. Now, based on the new study, it is believed that there could still be something that remained on the planet after the impact.

Using computer simulations in order to find explanations

In order to solve the mystery, the scientists had to come up with different scenarios to be used for simulations. One discovery was that after the impact of the protoplanet, taking into account a certain angular momentum and the composition of the impacting object, a huge amount of supplementary ice could have been accumulated deep inside the planet.

Scientists mentioned that if the impact speed was lower and the mass was low as well, then most of the ice would end up on top of the icy mantle that the planet has. Based on this theory, the extra ice might have locked the heat of the giant planet under the icy mantle or it might have generated a thermal inversion layer. Analyzing the ice giant’s material composition could give us many answers about what made the planet have its current orbital inclination. For now, researchers only have various simulations to play with in order to come up with theories, so we might need to wait a little bit longer to uncover Uranus’ mysteries.

As our second lead editor, Anna C. Mackinno provides guidance on the stories Great Lakes Ledger reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Anna. Anna received a BA and and MA from Fordham University.