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Uranus

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun and the third largest in the solar system. Though Uranus is visible to the naked eye, it was never recognized as a planet to ancient observers due to its dimness and slow orbit. The planet was discovered on March 13th, 1781 by William Herschel and this expanded the boundries of the known solar system for the first time in modern history.

Uranus is also a gas giant and like Saturn, it has a ring system. Uranus has several moons and the five largest are Miranda, Titania, Oberon, Umbriel, Ariel. Titania is the largest of all the Uranus moons with a radius only half that of our moon. Titania and Oberon were discovered by William Herschel in 1787. Ariel and Umbriel were discovered by William Lassell in 1851. John Herschel (William Herschel's son) gave the four then known moons their names in 1852. In 1948 Gerard Kuiper discovered the moon Miranda.





Uranus is named after the ancient Greek God of the heavens and has been vistied by only one space probe, Voyager 2 on Jan 24 1986. One odd feature discovered by voyager 2 is that Uranus spins on its side resulting in its polar regions pointing towards the sun.

 

Atmosphere

Uranus' atmosphere is about 83% hydrogen, 15% helium and 2% methane. There are also traces of water and ammonia. The planet's atmospheric details are very difficult to see in visible light. The methane gas above the cloud layers gives it a blue-green colour. Beneath the planet's methane layer, it is very similar to Jupiter and Saturn regarding the winds that circle the planet's longitudes. The presence of methane obsorbs red wavelength light which gives Uranus is turquoise appearance. There’s more than just methane in the atmosphere: higher up in the stratosphere hovers a hydrocarbon smog. Clouds of methane ice float low in the Uranian troposphere.

 

Orbit

The orbit of Uranus takes 84.3 years to complete one revolution around the Sun. In other words, 1 Uranian year is 84.3 Earth years. Uranus' orbit is also eliptical. The perihelion (closest approach to the sun) for Uranus is 2.75 billion km, or 18.4 astronomical units (1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun). The most distant point of orbit is called aphelion. The aphelion (most distant point from the sun) of Uranus is 3.00 billion km, or 20 astronomical units. On average, Uranus orbits at a distance of 2.88 billion km, or 19.2 AU.

Facts About Uranus

  • Uranus is the coldest planet in our solar system and this is due to its cool core

  • Uranus rotates on its side alowing its poles to point in the direction of the sun

  • Summer on Uranus lasts 42 years

  • Uranus is the second least dense planet in our solar system next to Saturn

  • Like Saturn, Uranus has rings which scientists believe formed very recently and not at the time of the planet's formation

  • Uranus is the first planet to be discovered in the modern age

 

 

Left: This image of Uranus clearly shows the rings that orbit the planet

 

Image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope





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