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Uranus was slammed by an object twice the size of Earth

Published Dec 24th, 2018 12:57PM EST

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It’s been a big year for Uranus. We’ve learned quite a bit about the planet thanks to new research efforts aimed at explaining why it behaves dramatically different when compared to the other planets in our system.

Back in July we learned that the planet’s bizarre rotation — it spins at a nearly 90-degree angle to our Solar System’s other worlds — was likely caused by some kind of incredible impact a long time ago. Now, a new study out of the UK is supporting the collision theory and provides a video of just how such a crash might have looked.

Anyone who took high school physics class knows that affecting an object the size of Uranus would take an incredible amount of energy. Using computer simulations, researcher Jacob Kegerreis of Durham University in North East England estimates that the object that struck the planet would have been at least twice the size of Earth.

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The collision likely happened very early on in Uranus’s development, even before the planet’s moons had taken shape. This could explain why the lopsided planet’s moons also have a habit of spinning at an angle unlike the rest of planets in our system.

What’s particularly interesting about this new work is the timeline over which the collision has been plotted. Such a crash would have been cataclysmic for Uranus and, if Kegerreis and his computer models are correct, the dramatic crash took place over the course of mere hours.

Additionally, the simulations leave open the possibility that whatever object struck Uranus wasn’t completely destroyed in the process. It’s still possible, scientists believe, that the planet-sized impactor survived the ordeal, and some even believe the object may be the still-unseen “Planet Nine” that is thought to be lurking at the edges of our Solar System.