How did Uranus Form?

How did Uranus Form?

What makes Uranus different from the other planets?

Scientists have tried to explore our solar system as much as they possibly can once the space exploration took off. The desire to find signs of life anywhere else than the Earth is the sole reason behind it. All the places which can be reached are being explored to get any success in this regard. Some places like Mars have given a glitter of hope to the researchers that there could be an alternative place for human survival. Contrary to that, there are numerous places which are too hostile for our existence. Uranus is one of them. It is the Seventh planet from the sun. The planetary radius of Uranus is third largest while its mass accounts for the fourth largest planet in our solar system.

Uranus and Neptune are classified as the ice giants. Uranus is very much similar to Jupiter and Saturn in terms of its atmosphere as Hydrogen and Helium are available in abundance. The major difference is the presence of ices. Some common examples include methane, ammonia, and water. It is also the coldest planet with temperatures dropping to as low as -224oC. Amy Simon, a planetary scientist, verified these facts in the following words.

Uranus and Neptune are really unique in our solar system. They’re very different planets than the other ones we think of. Part of the reason we call them ice giants is because they actually have a lot of water ice. So, while some of the other gas giant planets are mostly hydrogen and helium, they’re predominately water and other ices.”

Uranus is the second least dense planet in the solar system. Despite the fact that it contains hydrogen and helium, most of it is made up of ices. A pretty obvious reason for all this ice is that the distance from the sun is so much that temperatures do not rise to a level where melting process could be initiated. Its core is also different from rest of the planets. Other planets have cores made up of molten rocks while it has icy materials in there. These materials account for 80% of this planet’s mass. Its core heats to a maximum of 4982oC. It might seem extremely hot but considering the core of other planets, it is pretty cool. According to a research, Uranus is the only planet that gives less heat from its core than it receives from the sun.

Once we know the composition of this icy planet, the next thing that matters is that how it was formed. Scientists are not confident in any scientific theory that explains the creation of planets. Two theories are popular in this respect and they are, Core Accretion and the Disk Instability Method. The formation of terrestrial planets is justified through core accretion while disk instability method is helpful in case of giant planets like Uranus.

Core Accretion

According to scientists, the solar system was a cloud of gas and dust 4.6 billion years ago. That material, commonly known as Nebula, collapsed in on itself due to the gravitational forces. As a result, it started spinning while Sun was formed in the center. The rise of sun helped other materials to join together and form large particles. Solar wind was the reason behind sweeping lighter elements away from the terrestrial worlds. Uranus was at a greater distance where the effect of these winds was weak. Hence, these gases accumulated in its atmosphere. That’s how gas giants are formed. However, Uranus is a special case as its core has more rock than gas. This gives an impression as if the core was already built before helium, methane, and hydrogen started to gather. European Space Agency launched Characterising ExOPlanet Satellite (CHEOPS) in 2017 which will study exoplanets and will provide insights on how planets accrete materials.

The Disk Instability Model

According to this theory, small clumps of dust and gas are joined together in the early life of a solar system. They combine with each other gradually to form huge planets. The time taken in planet formation according to this theory is thousands of years while core accretion can take millions of years. This explains the mechanism of trapping rapidly-vanishing gases. Another issue with the first method was that the small planets could march into the sun. This concept mitigates that as well as orbit-stabilizing mass is attained much swiftly. As more and more research is being made, the understanding about the development of Uranus and other planets is bound to increase.

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