Uranus: facts about the weirdest planet in our Solar System

1. Uranus is known as the “sideways planet” because it rotates on its side.

An infrared composite image of the two hemispheres of Uranus obtained with Keck Telescope adaptive optics | Image: Lawrence Sromovsky, University of Wisconsin-Madison/W.W. Keck Observatory

The planet rotates in a retrograde direction, opposite to the way Earth and most other planets turn. Uranus rotates sideways and “rolls” around the Sun rather than “spinning” like the other planets.

2. Uranus was the first planet found using a telescope.

It is too dim to have been seen by the ancients. William Herschel tried to have his discovery named “Georgian Sidus” after King George III. 

3. Uranus has 27 known moons, most of which are named after literary characters.

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Uranus has 27 known moons, and they are named after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.

4. Uranus has rings.

Uranus has 13 known rings around it. The innermost rings are narrow and dark, and its outermost rings are brightly colored.

5. Uranus has the coldest planetary atmosphere.

Uranus’s minimum surface temperature is -224°C – making it the coldest of the eight planets.

6. Days are short, but the years are very long.

Uranus takes about 17 hours to rotate once (a Uranian day), and about 84 Earth years to complete an orbit of the Sun (a Uranian year).

7. Only one spacecraft has flown by Uranus.

Image: NASA
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In 1986, the Voyager 2 spacecraft swept past the planet at a distance of 81,500 km. It returned the first close-up images of the planet, its moons, and rings.

8. Uranus is the second least dense planet.

 With a mean density of 1.27 gram per centimeter cube, Uranus has the second-lowest density of any planet in the Solar System.

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