Over the years, astronomers and other scientists had been wondering why Uranus is so different than all the other planets from our Solar System. Uranus revolves around the Sun in a totally different direction and plane than the other planets, it has discs surrounding it, it’s tilted at 98 degrees, and so on.
But what exactly made the icy giant Uranus so different than the other planets of our Solar System? A team of Japanese researchers led by Professor Shigeru Ida from the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) at Tokyo Institute of Technology is providing an explanation.
Collision with a smaller planet
The researchers are claiming that early in the history of the Solar System, Uranus was hit by another planet – a smaller one, but also featuring an icy surface. The event caused the tipping of Uranus, and what remained behind was an idiosyncratic moon and ring system.
The research team created a computer simulation for moon formation around icy planets. Many scientists believe that our own moon formed when a planet almost the same size as Earth collided with our planet 4.5 billion years ago, releasing chunks of material into space that later was put together by gravity. While such massive collision was something regular in the early days of the Solar System, astronomers believe that Uranus got its peculiar characteristics in a similar way.
Professor Shigeru Ida says:
This model is the first to explain the configuration of Uranus’ moon system, and it may help explain the configurations of other icy planets in our solar system such as Neptune. Beyond this, astronomers have now discovered thousands of planets around other stars, so-called exoplanets, and observations suggest that many of the newly discovered planets known as super-Earths in exoplanetary systems may consist largely of water ice, and this model can also be applied to these planets.
But above all, there is one planet in the Solar System far weirder than Uranus and all of the other planets – and that planet is Earth, because it hosts complex life forms. Knowing for sure how life emerged and evolved on our planet is another huge step that science needs to make.