Last updated on September 24th, 2017
Cold, windy Uranus looks like a planet on its side. But you can’t see Uranus. At least, it’s not visible to the naked eye even though it is the third largest planet in our solar system and four hundred times the size of the earth!
Here are some other interesting facts about Uranus, the oddball planet, that we bet will fascinate you.
“Uranus orbits the Sun every 84 Earth years.”
#1. Uranus is too dim for ancient civilizations to have seen it.
#2. This is why there has been no mention of Uranus sightings before William Herschel saw it through his telescope in 1781. He had been surveying stars, including those that were ten times dimmer than visible stars.
#3. When he looked through the telescope and saw a strange, slow-spinning object, Herschel wasn’t sure what he was looking at was a planet. The British astronomer thought it was a comet or a star. It took some time for others to confirm that Uranus was a planet because it follows a planetary orbit.
#4. The funny thing is this makes Uranus the first planet to have been discovered in modern times! Ancient people had already scanned the skies and discovered six of our nine planets that we recognize today (the other modern discoveries were Neptune and Pluto, too dim to the naked eye).
#5. Uranus is named after a Greek god, not Roman like other planets.
#6. If you love studying planets, you’ll know that most planets are named after Roman gods. Mars is the Roman god of war, for instance. Uranus however is named after the Greek god of the sky, Ouranos or Uranus. He was the father of Saturn.
#7. Uranus is the only planet that is named after a Greek god. This curious fact has something to do with how Latin (which the Romans spoke) and Greek words were so closely interconnected in the minds of people during the Renaissance, when Uranus was discovered. It seems that Johann Bode, the German astronomer that settled on the name Uranus, may not have liked how the Latin name for the father of Saturn, Caelus, sounded. He may have preferred ‘Uranus’, and so that’s what this planet beyond Saturn came to be called.
#8. A lot of other names had been rejected in the naming of Uranus. These included Hypercronius (which means ‘above Saturn’) and even the dreadful Georgium Sidus (meaning ‘The Georgian Planet’) with which Herschel wanted to flatter the then-King of England George III. Thankfully Herschel’s sycophantic attempts to name Uranus was not popular, or we wouldn’t have ‘your-anus’ in our midst anymore!
#9. The tilt of Uranus may have been caused by a collision.
#10. No planet other than Uranus has such a screwball way of spinning around the sun! The Earth, as we know, spins at an angle of 23 degrees. Jupiter is barely tilted at an angle of 3 degrees.
#11. There’s a high chance that the reason for Uranus’s lopsided spinning is the many collisions it has suffered. If you look at near-infrared views of the planet, you’ll be able to see faint rings around the sphere. This will show you how deep the planet’s tilt angle really is. Something really big – many times bigger than the earth – may have crashed into Uranus a long time ago and thrown the planet on its side.
#12. Experts believe that this tilt was the result, literally, of several punches to the planet and not just one big collision. This may have happened at the beginning of the solar system, when the moons of Uranus were still balls of gas. Such a discovery has somewhat changed the way we think about the formation of planets in our solar system.
#13. The old theory was that Uranus, Neptune, and the Saturn and Jupiter cores were created by pulling in small floating objects from space around it. But there is evidence to suggest that Uranus suffered a collision at least twice. This means that maybe planets can be created by impact too.
#14. Uranus is icy and burning hot, with extreme seasons.
#15. If you look in the direction of Uranus through a telescope, you will see a bluish-greenish disk. The planet’s color comes from the 2 percent methane gas in its atmosphere, along with mostly hydrogen (83 percent) and some Helium (15 percent). Methane makes it aquamarine or cyan in colour.
Also read: Interesting facts about the sun
#16. In fact, Uranus has a thick, smoggy atmosphere that becomes denser the deeper you go. For example, if you were to fall off your spacecraft over Uranus, you’d probably find yourself half-falling and half-swimming through the planet’s atmosphere. In the heart of the icy smog of the planet is rock that is about the size of the earth.
#17. The pressure on the surface is around 1.3 times that of the earth and the gravity is about 0.9 times that of Earth. In other words, a 10 feet dunk on Earth would equate to an 11 feet dunk on Uranus.
#18. Temperatures are a freezing -153 degrees C to -218 degrees C in the deeper troposphere where the clouds are. Compare with Earth temperatures, where the coldest it’s got in recent years was a record -93.2 degrees C in Antarctica in 2013.
#19. Uranus is the coldest atmosphere in the solar system and it’s not hard to see why. It’s over 19 times further away from the sun than the Earth is! the temperature on the planet can get as low as -224 degree Celsius.
#20. The planet can get as hot as it gets cold. Where the sun’s radiation hits the planet’s outer atmosphere layers, temperatures can get as hot as 577 degrees C. The core may get as hot as 4,727 degrees (which is nothing to Jupiter’s 24,000 degree C core). But the sun is far away from Uranus, so the furnace in the core of Uranus probably plays a much larger role in keeping the planet warm.
#21. This kind of extreme temperature difference creates seasons as long as 20 years. This is easier to understand if you think about how large Uranus is.
#22. Strong winds are a blowing.
#23. Uranus is a giant planet. Wind speeds on giant planets can be as much as 15 times stronger than winds on Earth. Winds on Uranus can travel as fast as 560 miles per hour. That’s not exactly supersonic speed (the speed of sound in air is 750 miles per hour) so a stationary jet in the path of the crashing wind won’t experience a sonic boom like it would on Neptune. But the icy winds of Uranus can uproot trees, dislodge houses and do a lot more damage in seconds than we’ve seen on Earth.
#24. It’s fun to know that the winds of Uranus only blow in very narrow layers that are a very small proportion of the planet’s atmosphere. What this means is, there’s probably not a lot of weather activity going on deeper into the giant planet of Uranus.
Moons of Uranus
#25. Uranus has 27 moons, Jupiter has 67 while the Earth has just one. Uranus has third most moons in the solar system. The last of these 27 moons was discovered in 2003.
#26. There’s a lot more to learn about fascinating Uranus and its five major rocky moons: Miranda, Titania, Ariel, Umbriel and Oberon.
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