Hey! Uranus is sideways! While the other planets in our solar system rotate around an axis that is perpendicular, or just a bit tilted, from the orbital plane, Uranus goes whole hog and rotates around a horizontal axis. Why is the gas giant so contrary?
The leading hypothesis for this weirdness is that something large smacked into Uranus a long time ago, knocking it arse over teakettle. Although that scenario is not impossible, there are some pretty significant holes in this model.
Never fear, though. Astronomers at the University of Maryland have come up with a new scenario that neatly solves those issues. No, Uranus didn't get drunk on comet booze and fall over. But it could have been tilted sideways by a giant ring system.
"Wait a second," you are no doubt thinking, "Uranus doesn't have a giant ring system." And that's correct. Right now, it doesn't - its rings are faint and wispy things compared to Saturn's glorious spread.
But recent evidence from Cassini suggests rings could be temporary and short-lived - so it's possible Uranus had a much more extensive system sometime over its 4.5 billion-year past.
While this idea clears up some holes in the previous theory -that of an impact- it doesn't completely explain Uranus' tilt. However, if you combine the two celestial events, the ring system and the impact, it make more sense. Still, we have no proof either way. Read how rings around Uranus could have affected the planet's tilt, with an animation to help us understand, at Science Alert. -via Damn Interesting
(Image credit: NASA/Hubble)