Uranus as it would appear to human eyes.
Uranus as it would appear to human eyes.
Once considered one of the blander-looking planets, Uranus (pronounced YOOR un nus) has been revealed as a dynamic world with some of the brightest clouds in the outer solar system and 11 rings. The first planet found with the aid of a telescope, Uranus was discovered in 1781 by astronomer William Herschel. The seventh planet from the Sun is so distant that it takes 84 years to complete one orbit. Uranus, with no solid surface, is one of the gas giant planets (the others are Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune).

The atmosphere of Uranus is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, with a small amount of methane and traces of water and ammonia. Uranus gets its blue-green color from methane gas. Sunlight is reflected from Uranus' cloud tops, which lie beneath a layer of methane gas. As the reflected sunlight passes back through this layer, the methane gas absorbs the red portion of the light, allowing the blue portion to pass through, resulting in the blue-green color that we see. The planet's atmospheric details are very difficult to see in visible light. The bulk (80 percent or more) of the mass of Uranus is contained in an extended liquid core consisting primarily of 'icy' materials (water, methane, and ammonia), with higher-density material at depth.

In 1986, Voyager 2 observed faint cloud markings in the southern latitudes blowing westward between 100 and 600 kilometers (60 and 400 miles) per hour. In 2004, the Keck Observatory in Hawaii used advanced optics to capture highly detailed images of Uranus as the planet approached its southern autumnal equinox, when the equator will be vertically illuminated by the Sun.

Uranus' rotation axis is nearly horizontal as though Uranus has been knocked on its side, as compared to most other planets in our solar system. This unusual orientation may be the result of a collision with a planet-sized body early in the planet's history, which apparently radically changed Uranus' rotation. Additionally, while magnetic fields are typically in alignment with a planet's rotation, Uranus' magnetic field is tipped over: instead of aligning along the rotational axis, the magnetic axis is tilted nearly 60 degrees from the planet's axis of rotation, and is also offset from the center of the planet by one-third of the planet's radius. Unlike the magnetic fields of Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn, which can be thought of as acting like dipole bar magnets, the fields of Uranus (and Neptune also) are very irregular. Uranus' magnetic field is about 48 times more powerful than Earth's.

Even though Uranus is tipped on its side and experiences seasons that last over 20 years, the temperature differences on the summer and winter sides do not differ greatly because the planet is so far from the Sun. Near the cloud tops, the temperature of Uranus is -216 degrees Celsius (-357 degrees Fahrenheit).

Because of the planet's unusual orientation, Uranus' rings are perpendicular to its orbital path about the Sun. The 10 outer rings are dark, thin, and narrow, while the 11th ring is inside the others and is broad and diffuse. Uranus has 27 known moons, named mostly for characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. Miranda is the strangest-looking Uranian moon, appearing as though it were made of spare parts. The high cliffs and winding valleys of the moon may indicate partial melting of the interior, with icy material occasionally drifting to the surface.

Uranus: Facts & Figures
Discovered By
William Herschel
Date of Discovery
Average Distance from the Sun
Metric: 2,870,972,200 km
English: 1,783,939,400 miles
Scientific Notation: 2.8709722 x 109 km (19.191 A.U.)
By Comparison: 19.191 x Earth
Perihelion (closest)
Metric: 2,735,560,000 km
English: 1,699,800,000 miles
Scientific Notation: 2.73556 x 109 km (18.286 A.U.)
By Comparison: 18.60 x Earth
Aphelion (farthest)
Metric: 3,006,390,000 km
English: 1,868,080,000 miles
Scientific Notation: 3.00639 x 109 km (20.096 A.U.)
By Comparison: 19.76 x Earth
Equatorial Radius
Metric: 25,559 km
English: 15,882 miles
Scientific Notation: 2.5559 x 104 km
By Comparison: 4.007 x Earth
Equatorial Circumference
Metric: 160,592 km
English: 99,787 miles
Scientific Notation: 1.60592 x 105 km
Metric: 68,330,000,000,000 km3
Scientific Notation: 6.8330 x 1013 km3
By Comparison: 63.1 x Earth
Metric: 86,849,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg
Scientific Notation: 8.6849 x 1025 kg
By Comparison: 14.371 x Earth's
Metric: 1.30 g/cm3
By Comparison: 0.236 x Earth
Surface Area
Metric: 8,115,600,000 km2
English: 3,133,400,000 square miles
Scientific Notation: 8.1156 x 109 km2
By Comparison: 15.91 x Earth
Equatorial Surface Gravity
Metric: 8.43 m/s2
English: 27.7 ft/s2
By Comparison: If you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, you would weigh 86 pounds on Uranus.
Escape Velocity
Metric: 76,640 km/h
English: 47,620 mph
Scientific Notation: 21,290 m/s
By Comparison: 1.904 x Earth
Sidereal Rotation Period (Length of Day)
-0.7196 Earth days (retrograde)
-17.24 hours (retrograde)
By Comparison: 0.722 x Earth
Sidereal Orbit Period (Length of Year)
84.02 Earth years
30,687.2 Earth days
Mean Orbit Velocity
Metric: 24,607 km/h
English: 15,290 mph
Scientific Notation: 6,835.2 m/s
By Comparison: 0.229 x Earth
Orbital Eccentricity
By Comparison: 2.823 x Earth
Orbital Inclination to Ecliptic
0.770 degrees
Equatorial Inclination to Orbit
97.86 degrees
By Comparison: 4.173 x Earth
Orbital Circumference
Metric: 17,620,000,000 km
Scientific Notation: 1.762 x 1010 km
By Comparison: 19.06 x Earth
Effective Temperature
Metric: -216 C
English: -357 F
Scientific Notation: 57 K
Atmospheric Constituents
Hydrogen, Helium, Methane
Scientific Notation: H2, He, CH4
By Comparison: Earth's atmosphere consists mostly of N2 and O2.
Uranus's Moons