Facts about Uranus

Uranus has the funniest name among the planets in our cosmic neighborhood. But after the tired jokes fade away, some interesting facts can be elucidated from this fascinating planet named after the Greek god of the sky.  

On March 13th, 1781 William Herschel discovered Uranus, the first planet detected by telescope. Unknown to ancient astronomers because of its extreme distance, Uranus is the 7th planet in our solar system and has a blue-greenish hue. It orbits around 20 AU(Astronomical Units) away from the sun, which translates to 3 billion km or nearly 2 billion miles. Subsequently, one year on Uranus is equivalent to 84 years on Earth and a day is 17 hours long.

Uranus is the 4th most massive planet in our solar system and the 3rd largest in terms of diameter. Its neighbor, Neptune is more massive, but not as big in overall size. Its color is just like the other Jovian planets, it is composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, however, like it’s neighbor Neptune, contains more ices in its atmosphere. This translates to Uranus having the coldest atmosphere of all the planets at an average of -224 degrees Celsius. Uranus also has a strong magnetosphere and a narrow ring system just like the other Jovian planets.    

Perhaps the most compelling fact about Uranus is it orbits on its side. Its axial tilt is 97 degrees, meaning its poles lay horizontal. Due to this fact, each pole receives about 42 years of sunlight, while the other pole remains in darkness. This has major consequences on its weather and seasonal transitions. Its wind speeds can reach up to 560 mph and it is noted for having extreme storms and sporadic clouds.

Uranus does have companions in its journey around the sun, but its satellite system is arguably the least interesting of all the Jovian planets. Scientists have discovered 27 moons surrounding Uranus to date, the largest of which is named Titania. The combined mass of all its moons is less than any other gas giant and none of its moons reach the top five in terms of size. One interesting factoid is that all the moons of Uranus are named after characters from Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.

Of all the gas giants, Uranus is perhaps the most suitable to mine helium-3, a key component needed for nuclear fusion. In the next few centuries as our technology develops, humanity may find Uranus a much more important factor in our slow, steady climb up the evolutionary ladder.