Facts About Planet Uranus – The Planet Lying On Its Side

Uranus - facts about Uranus

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun and named after the Greek god of the heavens after its discovery in 1781. With a radius of about 25,300 km, it is the third-largest planet and fourth most massive planet. Uranus orbits the Sun once every 84 earth years from an average distance of 19.2 AU. Which means it is over 19 times farther from the Sun than Earth. Like other gas giants, its atmosphere is mostly hydrogen (83%) and helium (15%) with a small amount of methane. The feature that makes Uranus a unique from other planet is its sideways rotation. Its axis lies nearly level with the path around the Sun.

Facts about Uranus

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Planet Profile

Name Uranus
Knowm Satellite 27
Distance from Sun (avg) 2.871 billion km
Equatorial Radius 25,559 km
Polar Radius 24,973 km
Volume 6.83 × 1013 km3
Mass 8.681 × 1025 kg
Surface area 8.083 billion km2
Gravity 8.87 m/s2
Surface Temperature
( at 1 bar)
-197 ℃ or -322 °F
Length of day 0 day 17 hrs 14 min (earth time)
Length of year 84 Earth years
Astronomical symbol

Quick Facts About Uranus

  1. Uranus is the first planet to be discovered through a telescope.
  2. At a mean density of 1.27 g/cm3, Uranus is the second least dense planet in the solar system, after Saturn.
  3. NASA's Voyager 2 sent in 1986 is the only spacecraft that have been visited Uranus.
  4. Wind speed on Uranus can reach up to 900 kilometres or 560 miles per hour.
  5. Distance between Saturn and Uranus is greater than the distance between Saturn and the Sun.
  6. It is so far that the sunlight takes approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach Uranus.
  7. The chemical element "Uranium", a heavy metal, is also named after Uranus.
  8. The blue-green appearance of Uranus is due to the presence of Methane in the uraniun atmosphere.
  9. Uranus is the smallest of gas giants but about 14.5 massive and 4 times wider than Earth.
  10. Astronomers calls Uranus as ice giants rather than gas giants because of most of the planet's mass is made up of icy materials (water, methane and ammonia).

Detailed facts about Uranus

  • Uranus was not seen by any ancient civilizations

William Herschel's telescope through which Uranus was first discovered
William Herschel's telescope through which Uranus was first discovered

Though much of the solar system's planetary bodies were recorded and discovered during some period of an ancient civilization. Uranus is the first planet to have been first discovered during in more modern age. This does not mean that Uranus was not seen before. But before its initial observation, any early observations would have likely assumed the planet as just another star or comet.

In fact during second century BCE, Hipparchos - a Greek mathematician and astronomer recorded Uranus as a star in his star catalogue. During the 17th and 18th centuries, multiple sighting of Uranus was recorded by astronomers but as a star. It is believed that the planet itself is far too dim that any ancient civilizations had not been able to see it without the assistance of Technology.
  • Uranus was first and officially discovered in 1781

William Herschel

In ancient times, people discovered Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, but beyond all these, a world was hidden from the ancient people. Uranus was first and officially discovered by William Herschel on 13th March 1781. William Herschel who you have probably never heard of was a composer when he wasn't busy on making awesome history.

Herschel had been searching for a binary star system when he stumbled across a disc-shaped object. Though, he initially labelled it as a comet or stellar disc. Russian academician Anders Lexel stepped in and took a gander at Herschel's finding. After computing the orbit, Lexel suggested that it may be a planetary body. One that sits beyond Saturn at 1.8 billion miles or 2.9 billion kilometres from the Sun.
  • Uranus was named after Greek god of heavens or sky

Uranus stands above Gaia and her for children
Uranus stands above Gaia and her for children

Uranus is likely one of the least fortunate names in the solar system. Though the pronunciation is often exaggerated for comedic effect. Uranus actually started out with a completely different moniker. After discovering it as the seventh planet from the Sun, William Herschel pushed to name it Georgium Sidus or George’s star in honour of King George III. The name stuck astronomers from across the globe, specifically German astronomer Johann Elert Bode. Bode proposed the name should be remain in line with the mythology theme.

Johann suggested that if Jupiter was the father of Gods and Saturn was the father of Jupiter, then the new planet must be named after father of Saturn, Caelus. But rather taking the name from Roman religion, Bode opted for taking Caelus's Greek equivalent "Ouranos"- Greek God of heavens or sky. Which was Latinized as Uranus and became the common name by the 1850s.
  • There are 27 moons revolving around Uranus

Some major moons of Uranus
Some major moons of Uranus

As of 2003, Uranus is known to have the third most moons in the solar system. Coming in behind Jupiter and Saturn's 60 plus moons with a whopping 27 moons of its own. With the discovery of Uranus, Herschel had found the two largest moons Titania and Oberon. Ariel and Umbriel followed in 1851 having been discovered by William Lasell. Then in 1948, Gerard Kuiper discovered Miranda, the fifth of the larger moons.

The additional 10 moons were found in 1986 when the Voyager 2 passed by Uranus system. Six more moons were discovered in the 1990s and an additional six were found in the 2000s with the last one being confirmed in 2003. Even more interesting, each moon was named after a character from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream or from Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock.
  • Uranus' largest moon Titania is the eighth largest moon in the solar system

Titania - Largest moon of Uranus

Named after the queen of the fairies in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Titania stands as Uranus's largest moon. It was among the initial five moons discovered by Herschel and is sized as the eighth largest satellite in the solar system. With a diameter of 981 miles or 1579 km, Titania is about one-third the size of Earth's moon.

Titania is made up of a nearly 50-50 ratio of ice to rock and is thought to have a rocky core and an icy mantle. Impact craters as large as 203 miles or 327 kilometres and canyons speckle the moon's surface. The canyons thought to be the result of the moon's inner expansion. 
  • Uranus has a very thin and dark coloured ring system

Rings of Uranus, image taken by Hubble Space Telescope
Rings of Uranus, image taken by Hubble Space Telescope

During the many observations of his discovery, William Herschel had given reports of rings around Uranus. Despite his recordings, there has been dissension among astronomers. As some believed he couldn't have seen the Rings due to them being so dark and faint. Regardless in 1977, James L. Elliot, Jessica Mink and Edward W Dunham made the first official discovery of the rings of Uranus.

With nine rings being confirmed by 1978. A total of 13 rings have been found between images taken by the Voyager 2 in 1986 and photos from the Hubble Space Telescope between 2003 and 2005. It is thought that the system of rings came about from a collision of moons that may have once encircled the planet.
  • Uranus completes its one orbit once in 84 years

Orbit of Uranus and other outer planets with their position
Orbit of Uranus and other outer planets with their position

As expected, the farther away you are from the Sun the longer it takes to make a complete orbit. It takes roughly 84 earth years for Uranus to orbit the Sun just for only one time. Although a day is only about 17 hours and 14 minutes - one of the shorter days out of all of the planets.

The lengthy orbital period also means there are approximately 21 years between each seasonal change. At perihelion or the closest point to the Sun, Uranus is roughly 2.5 billion km or 1.7 billion miles away from the Sun which is about 18 times farther than Earth. While at aphelion or the farthest point from the Sun Uranus will be at 3 billion km or 1.89 billion miles from the Sun which is about 20 times farther.
  • Uranus is rotating nearly sideways in its orbit

Axial tilt of Uranus and other planets
Axial tilt of Uranus and other planets

Before even getting into Uranus' tilt let me give you some point of reference. Earth's axis is at a tilt of 23 and a half degrees which allow for us to have are almost evenly spaced seasons. When it comes to Uranus the axis is at a tilt closer to 98 degrees meaning that the planet is essentially rotating on its side. The 97.8 degrees tilt also means that for an entire half of a uraniun year either the North or South Poles are stuck in darkness. For 42 earth years, an entire portion of Uranus goes without Sun.

Uranus' unusual sideways rotation may be the result of a huge collision with a body that was several times larger than Earth. This must have happened in the solar system's early days because moons and rings orbit Uranus vertically. Some computer simulation suggested that it might have taken more than one collision to give uranus this unique tilt.
  • Uranus has unusual weather

Seasonal change on Uranus
Seasonal change on Uranus

If there is one thing that is indicative from Uranus' large tilt is that there are portions of the planet that don't see sunlight for years. In winter, the colder atmosphere void of sunlight for an extended period of time. When the sun starts to heat some parts for the first time, it generates gigantic springtime storms. These aren't the rain showers we may be used to here on earth. The storms can reach a size that would engulf the entirety of North America.

Additional to these seasonal storms, Uranus can also experience extreme winds, reaching speeds of 900 kilometres or 560 miles per hour. The temperatures dip as low as minus 350 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 220 degrees Celsius.
  • Uranus once dubbed as the most boring planet in the solar system

Banded structures and hazes aligned parallel to Uranus' equator.
Banded structures and hazes aligned parallel to Uranus' equator

Just by observing random stagnant photographs of Uranus one may assume the planet to be quite dull. In fact when the Voyager 2 took first imagery of the planet in 1986. It produced what looked like a tranquil blue sphere with minor spots of clouds.

Astronomer Heidi Hammel is known for her extensive research of Uranus and Neptune. She wrote in the 2006 text "Solar System Update" that Uranus was even once dubbed the most boring planet or its assumedly quiet nature. But that all changed when the Hubble telescope produced more telling photos after a seasonal change. That gave an indication of more severe weather patterns.
  • Uranus is full of diamonds and actually, it rains diamonds

Internal structure of Uranus
Internal structure of Uranus
© Wikimedia

Diamonds are very costly on earth as they are rare but not on ice giants like Uranus and Neptune. Uranus has a large amount of Methane in its atmosphere. When lightning storms strike these clouds of methane, it breaks carbon atoms from their chemical bonds. Then these lonely carbon atoms sink through the layers of the atmosphere. Where intense pressure and super hot temperature squeeze the carbon atoms into graphite and then again to solid diamond.

Scientists recreated the condition of Uranus and Neptune on earth to successfully produce diamond rain. They used an intense laser to send a pair of overlapping shockwave thorough a plastic made from hydrogen and carbon. The shockwave creates a brief moment of pressure and heat that is comparable to the interior of ice giants. The diamond that they produce is not much larger than a nanometer but they believe that diamonds on Uranus maybe millions of carats big.

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