Uranus 101 | National Geographic


– [Angeli] In ancient times, humans studied the night sky and discovered the
worlds of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. But beyond this realm of knowledge, another world shined brightly, just waiting to be discovered. Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun from a distance of about
20 astronomical units, or 20 times the distance
between Earth and the Sun. Uranus orbits the star
once every 84 Earth years, approximately the length
of a human’s entire life. This orbit causes each season of Uranus to last that much longer. Theoretically, a human living on Uranus would experience the
four seasons only once, but each for about 21 years. Partially due to its
distance from the Sun, Uranus boasts the coldest temperatures in the solar system. These icy temperatures, dropping as low as negative 370 degrees Fahrenheit, are largely influenced by
the planet’s composition. At about four Earths wide,
Uranus has an Earth-sized core made of iron and magnesium silicate. The remainder,
approximately 80% of Uranus, is a worldwide ocean
of ices made of water, ammonia, and methane, the
chemical behind the planet’s cool blue color. This icy composition prevents
Uranus from emitting much heat compared to other planets,
making the blue world the solar system’s coldest. In addition to its extreme
temperatures and orbit, Uranus has a dramatic orientation. While the other seven planets
spin on their axes like tops, Uranus appears to roll along its equator. The planet is tilted
at a near right angle, in which polar regions point
toward and away from the Sun, rather than upward and downward. This tilt, thought to be the
result of Uranus’ collision with at least one celestial body, has also affected the
orientation of Uranus’ 13 rings and 27 known moons. Unlike the rings and
moons of other worlds, which orbit their home
planets horizontally, those of Uranus orbit in
a vertical orientation along the planet’s tilted equator, much like a Ferris wheel. Uranus and its many unusual
features were a mystery to the ancients, and the
planet was actually thought to be a star. But in the late 18th century,
astronomer William Herschel discovered that the celestial object was actually a new world. The scientific community
debated over what the planet should be called, and
eventually chose a name suggested by astronomer Johann Elert Bode. Bode believed that since Jupiter
was the father of the gods, and Saturn was the father of Jupiter, then this new planet should be
the father of Saturn, Caelus. But rather than following the tradition of using names from
ancient Roman religion, Bode instead opted for Caelus’ ancient Greek equivalent, Ouranos. Ouranos, the ancient
Greek god of the heavens, was then Latinized to be Uranus. To this day, Uranus is
still the only planet that veered from tradition
with an ancient Greek namesake, a status most fitting for
a planet beyond convention.

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