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