Astronomy: Uranus

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Table of Contents

  1. Basic Facts
  2. Moons
  3. Atmosphere
  4. For Educators

Facts about Uranus

We are almost done with the planets, I hope your trip through the Solar System has been fun 😀

The next planet that comes after Jupiter and before Neptune is Uranus. It has a day of 17 hours and a year equal to 84 years on Earth. Just like Jupiter and Saturn are similar, Uranus and Neptune are very similar. Uranus was the first planet to be discovered in the sky, noticed by Herschel. It is visible in the night sky, if you have very good vision and a very dark sky, but more likely than not you will need a decent telescope to see it. Uranus probably has a small rock core, a large mantle made of water and ammonia which can get very hot.

The Catch with the Core

Notice how I say probably when discussing the core. I may have not brought this up before but we do not even know with certainty what Earth’s core is made of. We have made deductions of its composition of iron and nickel because of data like the magnetic field behavior here on Earth. We cannot access the core to know what it has. Thus, knowing for Uranus is even more difficult since we can not observe nearly as much of this data, like seismic wave behavior. The conclusion that it has a small rock core comes from the fact that since it is so massive, the pressure at the core must form some solid rocky core.

Back to the Facts

There is also methane in the mantle, which can reach very hot temperatures. At these high temperatures, the methane can break down and reform into complex hydrocarbons. This can form diamonds naturally there! The atmosphere also contains a lot of methane. Methane absorbs a lot of red light so that is why Uranus is blue. The clouds on this planet are made of ammonia, hydrogen and hydrogen sulfide. It is also sideways, so it orbits from south to north. This happened likely due to something massive impacting Uranus and turning it sideways, such that the poles are now side to side. It has only been visited by the Voyager 2 spacecraft. Just like Saturn, Uranus has rings, they are just must less pronounced. Finally, Uranus has over 2 dozen moons.

Here are some facts on the Voyager 2 spacecraft that I retrieved from NASA. It is the only spacecraft to have observed Uranus and has taken some stunning pictures.

Moons of Uranus

Uranus has 27 Moons, all named after characters written about by Shakespeare. The largest moon, Titania, was discovered by William Herschel, along with the second largest, Oberon. Another individual, William Lassell, discovered Ariel and Umbriel. There are many other moons orbiting this planet, like Puck, Miranda, and Portia. The moon Miranda has all sorts of crazy features like giant valleys.

Here is a picture of the moon Miranda. There are many well defined craters, valleys, and other varying land features.

For Educators

Every post I do was intended to have a for educators section, but when it comes to an individual planet, I do not think it is necessary. Each planet should only be discussed briefly, when teaching astronomy, its more important to give the big picture and get people attracted to astronomy. As such, I am going to skip this section for most of the planets. I think a short talk about each planet is sufficient. If you have anything you’d like in this section, please let me know.

Thank you

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