Uranus, named after the father of Cronos (Saturn), is a stunning and unique planet. Let’s find out six (plus one) features of Uranus you may have never heard of before!
Uranus is the seventh most distant planet from our star: its average distance is 2.9 billion kilometres (roughly 1.8 billion miles) from the Sun, which corresponds to 19.8 Astronomical Units.
Uranus, like Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune, is a gas giant planet. However, Uranus and Neptune are also classified as ice giants. The presence of water, methane and ammonia mixed with ice compounds of these molecules results in the coldest atmosphere in the Solar System, which reaches temperatures down to -224.2 degrees Celsius (-371.56 degrees Fahrenheit).
Saturn is not the only planet to have a fine and complex ring system. In fact, Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus have rings, too. Uranus has 13 known rings; the outer ones are brighter than the inner bands.
At least 27 moons revolve around this planet. The main feature of these moons is their names, that comes not from Greek mythological characters, but from works of Shakespeare and Pope, like Oberon, Miranda and Titania. Furthermore, the innermost satellites consist mainly of ice and rocks. The composition of the outermost satellite remains uncertain.
Almost all of the planets in the Solar System rotate on themselves almost perpendicular to their own orbital planes. Uranus is the only planet to have its rotation axis almost parallel to its orbital plane. Also, its rotation is retrograde, like planet Venus.
A Uranian day is pretty short, lasting only 17 hours, 14 minutes and 24 seconds. Due to its distance from the Sun, its period of revolution is 84 Earth years: since its discovery in 1781, the seventh planet has yet to complete three orbits around the Sun (mark your calendars: it will complete its orbit in 2033!).
Although it may seem confusing, Uranus was actually the first planet to be discovered by a human being: he was British astronomer William Herschel.
One day, Herschel claimed that he had discovered a strange celestial body. “That’s a strange comet” he wrote. Later on, Herschel and other astronomers realized that the strange comet was not a comet at all: the Solar System had a new planet. Well, it was already there in the sky, and probably it had been observed many other times by other astronomers but was never recognized as a planet.
Herschel, to honour his patron, King George III, named the newly discovered celestial body Georgium Sidum, the Star of George, or the Georgian Planet. Sometime later, astronomer Johann Eelert Bode proposed the name Uranus, the Latinised version of Ouranos, the God of the Skies in Greek mythology.
Featured image: credits NASA/JPL