By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Uranus Facts:

  • Location: 7th planet from the sun
  • Size: 3rd largest planet in our solar system
  • Orbit: 19.22 AU
  • Orbital Period: 84.07 Julian Years *
  • Average Distance from Earth: 19.2 AUs *
  • Diameter: 4X that of earth
  • Discovered: 1781 by William Herschel
  • Atmosphere: hydrogen, helium, water, methane, ammonia
  • Interesting facts: the planetary axis of rotation is titled sideways (97 degrees), which is unique for a planet in our solar system; the first planet discovered by a telescope; visited by Voyager 2.
  • Total number of moons: 27 (Cordelia, Ophelia, Bianca, Cressida, Desdemona, Juliet, Portia, Rosalind, Cupid, Belinda, Perdita, Puck, Mab, Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, Oberon, Francisco, Caliban, Stephano, Trinculo, Sycorax, Margaret, Prospero, Setebos, and Ferdinand)
  • Click here for Wolfram|Alpha data on Uranus

* = Courtesy of Wolfram Astronomy Assistant

So far I’ve covered three gas giant planets, and now I turn my eye (and software) to Uranus, one of the dimmest and least dense planets in the solar system.

Uranus is unique for several reasons. First, it is blue to blue-green in color, due to the methane content of the atmosphere. Second, Uranus is the only planet that is titled on it’s axis – slightly over 97 degrees. Third, Uranus was the first planet discovered with a telescope. Four, astronomers were able to use Uranus to determine where to look to find Neptune.

What to know what else is interesting about Uranus today, January 18, 2011? Today the New Horizons probe to Pluto is close to passing the orbital path of Uranus and continuing on its trek past Neptune and on to Pluto. Call me an astronomy geek, but I think that is cool.

Now lets get back to our planet of choice. Uranus has 27 odd satellites, and the closest of the 5 large moons is Miranda, so I took a quick trip to look at it. Rather plain, especially compared to some of Jupiter’s moons.

I like the quality of the images of both Uranus and Miranda in Starry Night Pro. They are so much nicer than the land telescope images we had before Voyager 2 made the long trek out to Uranus. I should add that earlier astronomy programs used Voyager 2 images of Uranus and other planets in the solar system, which really enhanced the experience of using the software.

I decided I’d like to see Uranus from Miranda’s surface (a nice feature of Starry Night), and it was a real treat. Uranus is fairly large and clearly visible from Miranda, as you might expect as it is a mere 130,000 km from Uranus.

Why this perspective from the surface of Miranda? Because Miranda has some canyons that are 20 km deep! Impressive. Miranda may be the smallest of the large Uranus satellites, but it’s proximity to Uranus could make it an interesting landing site for a future probe.

Fun, then it was time to look at Uranus and Miranda as they would be seen by an approaching spacecraft. I like how easy that was to setup in Starry Night Pro.

There are a lot of people without astronomy hardware or software, and those people can take advantage of Microsoft’s free WorldWideTelescope.org site to check out some nice digital images of Uranus, as well as the other planets of the solar system:

That’s it for now. Have a safe and happy holiday season.

– Mike

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Updates

6-24-2011 – Added Orbital Period, Average Distance from Earth information.

2-14-2011 – Added names of all moons.

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