WASHINGTON (AP) — Uranus is a lopsided oddity, the only planet to spin on its side. Scientists now think they know how it got that way: It was pushed over by a rock at least twice as big as Earth.
Detailed computer simulations show that an enormous rock crashed into the seventh planet from the sun, said Durham University astronomy researcher Jacob Kegerreis, who presented his analysis at a large earth and space science conference this month.
Uranus is unique in the solar system. The massive planet tilts about 90 degrees on its side, as do its five largest moons. Its magnetic field is also lopsided and doesn’t go out the poles like ours does, said NASA chief scientist Jim Green. It also is the only planet that doesn’t have its interior heat escape from the core. It has rings like Saturn, albeit faint ones.
The computer simulations show that the collision and reshaping of Uranus — maybe enveloping some or all of the rock that hit it — happened in a matter of hours, Kegerreis said. He produced an animation showing the violent crash and its aftermath.