Top 10 AMAZING Facts About URANUS
By now, hopefully the childish giggling has died down enough for you to pay close attention. From its 27 moons, to being labeled the "most boring planet", Uranus seems to never grab any media attention, but that doesn't mean it should be left off of our radar. Okay… we’ll give you a moment to chuckle, but then we’re launching you into 10 facts about Uranus... the planet.
“The Most Boring Planet”
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, known for her extensive research of Uranus and Neptune, wrote in the 2006 text, Solar System Update, that Uranus was even once dubbed “the most boring planet” for its assumedly quiet nature; but that all changed when the Hubble telescope produced more telling photos after a seasonal change and gave indication of more severe weather patterns.
Uranus has Unusual Weather
If there is one thing that is indicative from Uranus’ large tilt, it’s that there are portions of the planet that don’t see sunlight for years. When the colder atmosphere, void of sunlight for an extended period of time, starts to heat up, large springtime storms form. These aren’t the rain showers we may be used to here on Earth, though. The storms can reach a size that would engufl the entirety of North America. Additional to these seasonal storms, Uranus can also experience extreme winds, reaching speeds of 560 miles or 900 kilometers per hour and see temperatures dip as low as -350° F or -220° C.
A Hefty Tilt
Before even getting into Uranus’ tilt, let’s give you some point of reference: Earth’s axis is at a tilt of 23.5°, which allows us to have four, almost evenly spaced seasons. When it comes to Uranus, the axis is at a tilt closer to 98°, meaning that the planet is essentially rotating on its side. The 97.8° tilt also means that, for an entire half of a Uranian year, either the North or South Poles are stuck in darkness. For 42 Earth years, an entire portion of Uranus goes without sun – a far cry from Barrow, Alaska’s 7 to 10 week stretch without sunlight.
An 84-Year Orbital Period
As expected, the farther away you are from the sun, the longer it takes to make a complete orbit. It takes roughly 84 years for Uranus to orbit the sun just 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 18 times farther than earth, while at Aphelion, or the farthest point from the sun, Uranus will be about 20 times farther.
Uranus has Rings
During the many observations of his discovery, William Herschel had given reports of rings surrounding Uranus. Despite his recordings, there had been dissention 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 9 being confirmed by 1978. Between images taken by the Voyager 2 in 1986 and photos from the Hubble Space Telescope between 2003 and 2005, a total of 13 rings had been found. It is thought that the system of rings came about from a collision of moons that may have once circled the planet.
Uranus’ Largest Moon
Named after the Queen of the Fairies in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titania stands as Uranus’ 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 1,579 kilometers, Titania is about one-third the size of Earth’s Moon. Titania is made up of a near 50:50 ratio of ice to rock and is thought to have a rocky core and icy mantle. Impact craters as large as 203 miles or 327 kilometers and canyons speckle the moon’s surface, with the canyons thought to be a result of the moon’s inner expansion.
The 27 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. 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 Lassell; then Miranda, the 5th of the larger satellite moons, being discovered by Gerard Kuiper in 1948. It wasn’t until 1986, when the Voyager 2 passed by Uranus’ system, that an additional 10 moons were found. Six more moons were discovered in the 1990’s, and an additional 6 were found in the 2000’s, 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 “Rape of the Lock”.
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 7th planet from the sun, William Herschel pushed to name it Georgium Sidus, or George’s Star, in honor of King George III. Though the name stuck, astronomers from across the globe, specifically German astronomer Johann Elert Bode, proposed that the name remain in line with the mythology theme. Uranus, the Greek god of the Heavens or sky, was decided upon and became the common name by the 1850’s.
Uranus Was Not Seen by Ancient Civilizations
Though much of the solar system’s planetary make-up was recorded and discovered during some period of ancient civilization, Uranus is the first planet to have been first discovered during a more modern age. That’s not to say it hadn’t been observed previously; but, like Herschel’s own initial assumption, any early observations would have likely assumed the planet as just another star or comet. It is believed, though, that the planet itself is far too dim for any ancient civilization to have been able to see it without the assistance of assisted technology.
The Discovery of Uranus
What were you doing on March 13, 1781? We bet you probably weren’t out there discovering planets, like English astronomer, William Hercshel. Herschel who you’ve probably never heard of, was also a composer when he wasn’t busy making awesome history. Hercshel had been searching for double stars when he stumbled across a disk-shaped object. Though he initially labeled it a comet or stellar disk, Russian Academician Anders Lexell stepped in and took a gander at Herschel’s finding. After computing the orbit, Lexell suggested that it may be a planetary body, one that sat beyond Saturn at 1.8 billion miles or 2.9 billion kilometers from the sun.