Complex Things in Simple Words | 5 Amazing Facts about Uranus

On March 13, 1781, English astronomer William Herschel noticed a tiny spot in his telescope and at first thought it was a new comet. However, it later became clear that this was actually a planet located much further from the Sun than Earth. Now we know it by the name Uranus.


1. Who actually discovered Uranus?

The average distance from the Sun to Uranus is almost 3 billion km. Nevertheless, it is quite possible to see Uranus from Earth with the naked eye, but it is difficult. It rotates extremely slowly, which is why it is hard to distinguish it from a star.

That is why it is impossible to say about the first person to observe this planet. Most likely, it was in ancient times that people observed Uranus, but it was not possible to distinguish this planet of the Solar System from a star for centuries.

The first person who saw Uranus for sure and left a record about it, but did not understand what it really was, was the English astronomer John Flamsteed. This happened in 1690. After that, Uranus was observed at least 20 more times before Herschel’s observations proved that it was a planet.

2. How did Uranus get its name?

Uranus did not receive its current name immediately because of the ongoing disputes over this issue. Herschel called the body he discovered “Georgium Sidus”, i.e. “George’s Star”, referring to the English King George III, who was his patron. 

In the English astronomical literature, this name of the seventh planet from the sun remained until the middle of the XIX century. However, this idea was disapproved of in other countries. There they proposed to name it “Herschel” in honor of the discoverer.

The name “Uranus” was proposed by German astronomer Johann Bode. According to Greek mythology, this was the name of the god of heaven, the father of Kronos, to whom Saturn corresponded. At the same time, Uranus is the only big planet that has received a non-Latin name.

3. Why is the movement of Uranus in orbit so strange?

Uranus makes one orbit around the Sun in 84 years, that is, it moves extremely slowly in its orbit. However, this is not what makes it so strange, but the inclination of the equator of rotation to the plane of the orbit. It is 98°. That is, the planet is actually lying on its side and slightly upside down in this form, carrying out its space journey.

This, as well as the strong displacement of the magnetic poles relative to the planetographic ones, led scientists to believe that once, at the dawn of its existence, Uranus collided with some kind of large body that “put it on its side.”

4. What color is Uranus?

Like any other planet, the color of Uranus depends on the lighting. For astronomers observing it through telescopes, it most often looks like a smooth ball of pale greenish color. And this makes it quite different from neighboring Neptune: it has a rich blue color and streaks of clouds.

However, recent studies have found that in fact the depths of Uranus have the same color as Neptune — blue. At a certain altitude, a thick fog is constantly present in its atmosphere, which effectively dissipates some of the electromagnetic waves of a certain length. 

5. How many rings does Uranus have?

Uranus has a ring system. It was first reported by Herschel, but scientists have still debated whether he could actually see these structures. After all, they were not noticed after him for two centuries. And only in 1977, during observations of the Uranus coating of a distant star, scientists noticed that its brightness began to fluctuate long before it touched the planet’s disk.

This way they found out about the existence of a system of 9 rings. The Voyager 2 spacecraft, which flew past Uranus in 1986, added 2 more to them. And in 2006, with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, the existence of two more rings was proved. Thus, their total number has reached 13.

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