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14.13: Uranus

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Uranus was the father of Saturn.

Uranus is an icy blue-green ball named for the ancient Greek god of the heavens. The planet's satellites are named for the characters of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.

Uranus

Uranus (YOOR-uh-nuhs) is named for the Greek god of the sky. From Earth, Uranus is so faint that it was unnoticed by ancient observers. William Herschel first discovered the planet in 1781.

Although Uranus is very large, it is extremely far away, about 2.8 billion km (1.8 billion mi) from the Sun. Light from the Sun takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach Uranus. Uranus orbits the Sun once about every 84 Earth years.

Uranus has a mass about 14 times the mass of Earth, but it is much less dense than Earth. Gravity at the surface of Uranus is weaker than on Earth’s surface, so if you were at the top of the clouds on Uranus, you would weigh about 10% less than what you weigh on Earth.

An Icy Blue-Green Ball

Like Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus is composed mainly of hydrogen and helium, with an outer gas layer that gives way to liquid on the inside. Uranus has a higher percentage of icy materials, such as water, ammonia (NH 3 ), and methane (CH 4 ), than Jupiter and Saturn.

When sunlight reflects off Uranus, clouds of methane filter out red light, giving the planet a blue-green color. There are bands of clouds in the atmosphere of Uranus, but they are hard to see in normal light, so the planet looks like a plain blue ball.

The Sideways Planet

Most of the planets in the solar system rotate on their axes in the same direction that they move around the Sun. Uranus, though, is tilted on its side, so its axis is almost parallel to its orbit. In other words, it rotates like a top that was turned so that it was spinning parallel to the floor. Scientists think that Uranus was probably knocked over by a collision with another planet-sized object billions of years ago.

Rings and Moons of Uranus

Uranus has a faint system of rings ( Figure below ). The rings circle the planet’s equator, but because Uranus is tilted on its side, the rings are almost perpendicular to the planet’s orbit.

The sideways rings of Uranus

This image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the faint rings of Uranus. The planet is tilted on its side, so the rings are nearly vertical.

Uranus has 27 known moons and all but a few of them are named for characters from the plays of William Shakespeare. The five biggest moons of Uranus — Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon — are shown in Figure below .

The five biggest moons of Uranus: Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon

These Voyager 2 photos have been resized to show the relative sizes of the five main moons of Uranus.

Summary

  • Uranus is composed of hydrogen and helium, but methane clouds filter red light and give the planet a blue-green color.
  • The rotational axis of Uranus is tilted almost parallel to its orbit.
  • Uranus has rings that are nearly perpendicular to the planet's orbit.

Practice

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What is the rotation of Uranus like?
  2. What is the gravity of Uranus compared with the gravity of Earth? Why do you think that is the case?
  3. What is the weather like on Uranus? What causes violent storms?
  4. What is the core of the planet? What is the mantle?
  5. What unusual feature is found in the core and how does it form?
  6. What makes up the outer layer of Uranus?
  7. Why does Uranus appear blue?
  8. Why is Uranus tipped on its side?
  9. What is the effect of the tipped orbit on the planet's seasons? Does Uranus have seasons? Why or why not?
  10. How are Uranus' rings different from Saturn's?

Want to know more about Uranus? See https://www.windows2universe.org/uranus/uranus.html .

Review

  1. Why would you weigh only 90% of your Earth weight on Uranus?
  2. Why is Uranus tilted on its side?
  3. Why is Uranus blue?

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At Grade

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Date Created:

Feb 24, 2012

Last Modified:

Aug 25, 2014
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