This image, taken by Hubble, clearly shows Uranus and its rings.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA

Discover Uranus

Astronomer William Herschel is credited with the discovery of Uranus in 1781. He was using a telescope he built himself when he spotted a dim object. He monitored it for years and determined it had to be a planet given its orbit.

Herschel argued with other astronomers over the new planet's name. He wanted to name it after King George III of Great Britain while others wanted him to name it after himself. Finally, they opted to follow suit and name it after an ancient god. Uranus was named after Ouranos, one of the first gods in Greek mythology.

Most of what we know today about this distant planet came from the Voyager II flyby in 1986. Uranus is a very odd planet. It sits on its side with the north and south poles sticking out the sides. It rotates about this axis, giving the appearance of a ball rolling around in a circle about the Sun.

Although Herschel discovered two of the planet's satellites in 1781, a majority were spotted by Voyager II. The current total number of moons for Uranus is 21, the largest number for any planet in our solar system. With the help of more powerful telescopes, more moons may be revealed.

In 1977, scientists from Cornell University watched as Uranus appeared to blink several times. They later realized the blinking was caused by a band of faint rings surrounding the planet. These rings are very dark and narrow, unlike Saturn's, which are bright and colorful. Voyager II sent back many pictures that clearly show these rings.

Last modified November 17, 2000 by Jennifer Bergman.

You might also be interested in:

Uranus' Moons and Rings

Uranus has // Call the moon count function defined in the document head print_moon_count('uranus'); fascinating moons and a complicated ring system. The ring system is a completely different form of ring...more

Myths about Uranus

Uranus, which was discovered by William Herschel in 1781, was unknown in ancient times. Astronomers decided to continue the practice of naming planets after deities in Greek and Roman mythology, so named...more

An Overview of Uranus' Atmosphere

The bland aquamarine face of Uranus bears witness to the fact that Uranus is enshrouded in clouds. The planet appears to be blue-green because the atmosphere absorbs the red wavelengths of the visible...more

An Overview of Uranus' Interior

The Giant planets do not have the same kind of structure inside that the terrestrial planets do. Their evolution was quite different than that of the terrestrial planets, and they have much more gas and...more

The Poles of Uranus

Uranus is the tilted planet. Its spin axis, which defines the locations of its North and South Poles, is tilted almost 98° away from the "upright" direction perpendicular to its orbital plane. In other...more

An Overview of Uranus' Atmospheric Evolution

Atmospheres of the giant planets have definitely evolved from their formation out of the primitive solar nebula. How much they have evolved remains to be seen, however. Because of their enormous gravity,...more

Diffusion in Uranus Atmosphere

The major gaseous constituent of the atmosphere is methane. At the uppermost reaches of the atmosphere, near the thermosphere, methane gas breaks apart due to the influence of energetic photons or charged...more

An Overview of Motions in Uranus' Atmosphere

Motions in the atmosphere include wind. The major winds in the Uranian atmosphere are the zonal winds which consist of westward flowing zones and eastward flowing belts. The other major means of motion...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA