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A photo of Uranus taken by Voyager 2.

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun; it is the third largest and fourth most massive planet in the solar system. Uranus was the first planet discovered in modern times. Though it is visible to the naked eye like the five classical planets, it was never recognised as a planet by ancient observers due to its dimness. Sir William Herschel announced its discovery on March 13, 1781, expanding the known boundaries of the solar system. Uranus' atmosphere, although similar to Jupiter and Saturn in being composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, contains a higher proportion of "ices" such as water, ammonia and methane, along with the usual traces of hydrocarbons. It has the coldest planetary atmosphere in the solar system, with a minimum temperature of 49 K, and has a complex layered cloud structure in which water is thought to make up the lowest clouds, while methane makes up the uppermost layer of clouds. In 1986, images from the Voyager 2 space probe showed Uranus as a virtually featureless planet in visible light without the cloud bands or storms associated with the other giants. The wind speeds on Uranus can reach 250 m/s (560 mph).

More about...Uranus: its history, rings, atmosphere, climate, moons, and its exploration

Selected article

Voyager 2 picture of Uranus' rings
The rings of Uranus were discovered on March 10, 1977, by James L. Elliot, Edward W. Dunham, and Douglas J. Mink. Two additional rings were discovered in 1986 by the Voyager 2 spacecraft, and two outer rings were found in 2003–2005 by the Hubble Space Telescope. A number of faint dust bands and incomplete arcs may exist between the main rings. The rings are extremely dark—the Bond albedo of the rings' particles does not exceed 2%. They are likely composed of water ice with the addition of some dark radiation-processed organics. The majority of Uranus's rings are opaque and only a few kilometres wide. The ring system contains little dust overall; it consists mostly of large bodies 0.2–20 m in diameter. The relative lack of dust in the ring system is due to aerodynamic drag from the extended Uranian exospherecorona. The rings of Uranus are thought to be relatively young, at not more than 600 million years. The mechanism that confines the narrow rings is not well understood. The Uranian ring system probably originated from the collisional fragmentation of a number of moons that once existed around the planet. After colliding, the moons broke up into numerous particles, which survived as narrow and optically dense rings only in strictly confined zones of maximum stability.

Selected biography

Gerard Kuiper
Gerard Peter Kuiper (/ˈkpər/; Dutch pronunciation: [ˈkœypər]; born Gerrit Pieter Kuiper December 7, 1905, Harenkarspel (Tuitjenhorn), Netherlands – December 24, 1973, Mexico City) was a Dutch astronomer who became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Kuiper discovered two natural satellites of planets in the solar system, namely Uranus's satellite Miranda and Neptune's satellite Nereid. In addition, he discovered carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mars and the existence of a methane-laced atmosphere above Saturn's satellite Titan in 1944.


Uranus Atmosphere ˑ Climate ˑ Exploration (Voyager 2) ˑ Rings

Moons (Portia ˑ Puck ˑ Miranda ˑ Ariel ˑ Umbriel ˑ Titania ˑ Oberon ˑ Caliban ˑ Sycorax)

Astronomers: William Herschel ˑ William Lassell ˑ Gerard Kuiper ˑ James L. Elliot

See Also: Formation and evolution of the Solar System ˑ Gas Giant ˑ Nebular hypothesis

Bold articles are featured.
Italicized articles are on dwarf planets or major moons.

Selected picture

A dark spot on Uranus.
Credit: Hubble Space Telescope

The first dark spot on Uranus ever observed. The image is obtained by ACS on HST in 2006.

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