Uranus, the gas (and ice) giant, is a fascinating planet. Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun, is the third-largest planet in terms of size, the fourth-largest in terms of mass, and one of our Solar System’s least dense objects. It’s also the only planet in the Solar System whose name is derived from Greek (rather than Roman) mythology.
However, these fundamental facts are simply the tip of the iceberg. When it comes down to it, Uranus is packed with fascinating and intriguing details, from its numerous moons to its ring system and the composition of its aqua atmosphere. Here are ten interesting facts about this gas/ice giant, at least one of them will surprise you.
1. Uranus is the Solar System’s coldest planet: Uranus is the Sun’s seventh planet, orbiting at a distance of 2.88 billion kilometers. But it’s still a long way from Neptune, which orbits the Sun at a distance of 4.5 billion kilometers.
However, this does not change the fact that Uranus is colder than Neptune. While the former has an average temperature of 72 K (-201 °C/-330 °F) and a low of 55 K (-218 °C/-360 °F), the latter has an average temperature of 72 K (-201 °C/-330 °F).
The temperature at the cloud tops of Uranus, on the other hand (which is described as “surface temperature” for gas giants) averages 76 K (-197.2 °C/-323 °F) but can reach 47 K (-226 °C/-375 °F).
This is because, unlike the other major planets in the Solar System, Uranus sends off less heat than it absorbs from the Sun. While the cores of the other major planets are extremely hot and emit infrared radiation, Uranus’ core has cooled to the point that it no longer emits much energy.
2. Uranus is the only planet in the solar system that orbits the Sun on its side: The planets in the Solar System all rotate on their axes at a similar angle to the Sun. Planets often have an axial tilt, which means one of their poles is angled slightly toward the Sun. The axis of rotation of the Earth, for example, is inclined 23.5 degrees away from the plane of the Sun. With a tilt of around 24 degrees, Mars is similar to Earth, resulting in seasonal fluctuations on both planets.
Uranus, on the other hand, has an axial tilt of 99 degrees! To put it another way, the Earth is spinning on its side. As they orbit the Sun, all of the planets resemble spinning tops, but Uranus resembles a ball rolling in a circular pattern. This leads to yet another odd truth about Uranus…
3. On Uranus, a season is one long day – 42 years: On Uranus, a sidereal day (the time it takes the planet to complete one oration on its axis) lasts only approximately 17 hours. However, Uranus’ tilt is so extreme that one of its poles is usually pointing toward the Sun. This indicates that a day on Uranus’ north pole lasts half a Uranian year or 84 Earth years.
So, if you were to stand on Uranus’ north pole, you would witness the Sunrise in the sky and circle for 42 years. The Sun would ultimately sink below the horizon at the end of this lengthy, drawn-out “summer.” On Uranus, this would be followed by 42 years of darkness, regarded as a single “winter” season.
4. Uranus is the planet with the second-lowest density: Saturn is the Solar System’s least dense planet. Saturn’s body is actually less dense than water (1 g/cm3), having a mean density of 0.687 g/cm3. This suggests that if the Earth were to float in a pool 60,000 kilometers wide, it would float. Uranus has the second-lowest density of any planet in the Solar System, with a mean density of 1.27 g/cm3.
This low density has an unexpected consequence. Despite the fact that Uranus is 14.5 times the mass of the Earth, its lower density implies that you would only feel around 89 percent of the force of gravity if you stood on the planet’s cloud tops.
The infrared spectrum of Uranus reveals its interior heating and ring system. Lawrence Sromovsky (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Keck Observatory
5. Uranus is a ringed planet: Saturn’s ring system is the most well-known of all the ring systems. They are not only vibrant and far-reaching, but they are also very noticeable. With little more than a backyard telescope, they may be found. However, all gas and ice giants have their own ring systems, and Uranus’ ring system is the second most spectacular in the Solar System.
These rings, on the other hand, are made up of incredibly dark particles ranging in size from micrometres to a fraction of a meter, which is why they aren’t as visible as Saturn’s. There are currently thirteen unique rings recognized, with the epsilon ring being the brightest. These rings, with the exception of two very tiny ones, are normally a few kilometers wide.
The rings are most likely relatively young, and they aren’t thought to have formed in conjunction with Uranus. The material in the rings could have been fragmented from a moon (or moons) smashed by high-speed impacts. Only a few particles survived from the numerous bits of debris that were generated as a result of those strikes, and they were found in stable zones corresponding to the current rings’ locations.
6. Uranus’ atmosphere contains “ices”: Neptune appears to be relatively average in comparison to Jupiter and Uranus. The violent and tumultuous nature of Jupiter and Saturn’s atmospheres is made obvious by the swirling clouds and eddies that wash across their surfaces. Uranus, on the other hand, is a pale, uniform blue. However, because of improved instruments that can analyze planets at different wavelengths (such as infrared) and the Voyager 2 spacecraft’s approach, certain crucial features became visible.
For example, Uranus’s atmosphere contains tremendous zonal winds that can reach speeds of up to 250 m/s (900 km/h, 560 mph) and can produce anticyclonic storms similar to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (also known as the “Dark Spot”). It also features cloud patterns that vary between hemispheres, with some lasting only a few hours and others lasting years or decades.
The presence of certain “ices” in Uranus’ atmosphere is possibly most intriguing. Methane (CH), the third most prevalent component of Uranus’ atmosphere, is responsible for Uranus’ aquamarine tint. Other hydrocarbons, including ethane, acetylene, methylacetylene, and diacetylene, are also found in trace amounts and are thought to be the result of methane reacting with solar ultraviolet radiation (aka. photolysis).
Finally, within Uranus’ atmosphere, there exists proven evidence of water, ammonia, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide. They are also suspended in an icy state due to the high temperature (thus the title “ice giant”).
7. Uranus has a total of 27 moons: Uranus, like all of the large planets, has a number of moons. Astronomers have established the presence of 27 natural satellites at this time. The majority of these moons, however, are small and irregular. Even if all of their masses were added together, they would still be less than half the mass of Triton, Neptune’s largest moon. Unlike Triton, however, all of Uranus’ larger moons are thought to have arisen from an accretion disc that encircled the planet, rather than being captured objects.
Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Oberon, and Titania are Uranus’ largest moons, in order of size. Miranda has a diameter of 472 kilometers and a mass of 6.7 1019 kilograms, whereas Titania has a diameter of 1578 kilometers and a mass of 3.5 1021 kilograms. Each of these moons has a low bond and geometric albedos, making them exceptionally dark. The brightest is Ariel, while the darkest is Umbriel.
Each one is made up of nearly equal amounts of rock and ice, with the exception of Miranda, which is mostly made up of ice, which may contain ammonia and carbon dioxide, while the rocky material is thought to be carbonaceous. Their compositions are thought to be distinct, with a rocky core surrounded by an ice mantle. Liquid water oceans are thought to exist at the core/mantle barrier in the cases of Titania and Oberon.
The rest of Uranus’ moons, which are either within Miranda’s orbit or beyond Oberon’s, are all linked to Uranus’ ring system, which is thought to have formed from the fragmentation of one or more small inner moons. They’re all made up of ices that have been contaminated with a black substance, which is most likely organic substances that have been darkened by UV light
8. Uranus was the first modern-day planet discovered: The majority of the planets are visible to the naked eye and have been known since antiquity. Uranus was the first planet to be identified after the telescope was invented. It was discovered by John Flamsteed in 1690, who mistook it for a star in the constellation Tauri. However, it wasn’t until 1781 that astronomers realized it was a planet thanks to Sir William Herschel’s observations.
Uranus was given the name “George’s Star” by Herschel in honor of King George III of England. Outside of England, however, this was not a well-known name. The astrological community eventually agreed on Uranus — the Latinized version of the Greek god of the sky, Ouranos – as the name for the planet, and it remained.
Read more: Jupiter’s Ten Most Interesting Facts!
9. Uranus is visible to the naked eye: You might be shocked to learn that Uranus can be seen without the use of a telescope. Uranus is just within the range of brightness that the human eye can detect, at magnitude 5.3. Unfortunately, you’d have to make sure the night sky was really dark (i.e., there was no light pollution) and know exactly where to look.
As a result, Uranus has been seen by ancient and pre-modern astronomers numerous times in the past. However, because of its low light in comparison to the other planets, it was frequently mistaken for a star. In fact, when Flamsteed first saw it, he labeled it 34 Tauri, assuming it to be a Taurus constellation star.
10. Only one trip to Uranus has been made: Only one spacecraft has ever come close to Uranus in the history of human spaceflight. On January 24th, 1986, NASA’s Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Uranus, reaching within 81,000 kilometers of the planet’s cloud tops. Before flying off to its next target, Neptune, it took thousands of images of the gas/ice giant and its moons.
There has never been any other spacecraft dispatched to Uranus, and there are presently no plans to send any more. During a mission extension planning phase in 2009, the prospect of transporting the Cassini spacecraft from Saturn to Uranus was considered. Cassini would have had to travel nearly twenty years after leaving Saturn to reach the Uranian system, therefore this never happened. Several options are being considered at the moment, but none has been confirmed.