Introduction :

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun. Its name is a reference to the Greek god of the sky, Uranus, who, according to Greek mythology, was the grandfather of Zeus (Jupiter) and father of Cronus (Saturn). It has the third-largest planetary radius and fourth-largest planetary mass in the Solar System. Uranus is similar in composition to Neptune, and both have bulk chemical compositions which differ from that of the larger gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. For this reason, scientists often classify Uranus and Neptune as "ice giants" to distinguish them from the other gas giants. Uranus's atmosphere is similar to Jupiter's and Saturn's in its primary composition of hydrogen and helium, but it contains more "ices" such as water, ammonia, and methane, along with traces of other hydrocarbons. It has the coldest planetary atmosphere in the Solar System, with a minimum temperature of 49 K (−224 °C; −371 °F), and has a complex, layered cloud structure with water thought to make up the lowest clouds and methane the uppermost layer of clouds. The interior of Uranus is mainly composed of ices and rock.

Like the other giant planets, Uranus has a ring system, a magnetosphere, and numerous moons. The Uranian system has a unique configuration because its axis of rotation is tilted sideways, nearly into the plane of its solar orbit. Its north and south poles, therefore, lie where most other planets have their equators. In 1986, images from Voyager 2 showed Uranus as an almost featureless planet in visible light, without the cloud bands or storms associated with the other giant planets. Voyager 2 remains the only spacecraft to visit the planet. Observations from Earth have shown seasonal change and increased weather activity as Uranus approached its equinox in 2007. Wind speeds can reach 250 metres per second (900 km/h; 560 mph).

Size and Distance :

With a radius of 15,759.2 miles (25,362 kilometers), Uranus is 4 times wider than Earth. If Earth was the size of a nickel, Uranus would be about as big as a softball.

From an average distance of 1.8 billion miles (2.9 billion kilometers), Uranus is 19.8 astronomical units away from the Sun. One astronomical unit (abbreviated as AU), is the distance from the Sun to Earth. From this distance, it takes sunlight 2 hours and 40 minutes to travel from the Sun to Uranus.


Orbit and Rotation :

One day on Uranus takes about 17 hours (the time it takes for Uranus to rotate or spin once). And Uranus makes a complete orbit around the Sun (a year in Uranian time) in about 84 Earth years (30,687 Earth days).

Uranus is the only planet whose equator is nearly at a right angle to its orbit, with a tilt of 97.77 degrees—possibly the result of a collision with an Earth-sized object long ago. This unique tilt causes the most extreme seasons in the solar system. For nearly a quarter of each Uranian year, the Sun shines directly over each pole, plunging the other half of the planet into a 21-year-long, dark winter.

Uranus is also one of just two planets that rotate in the opposite direction than most of the planets (Venus is the other one), from east to west.

Internal structure :

Uranus's mass is roughly 14.5 times that of Earth, making it the least massive of the giant planets. Its diameter is slightly larger than Neptune's at roughly four times that of Earth. A resulting density of 1.27 g/cm3 makes Uranus the second least dense planet, after Saturn. This value indicates that it is made primarily of various ices, such as water, ammonia, and methane. The total mass of ice in Uranus's interior is not precisely known, because different figures emerge depending on the model chosen; it must be between 9.3 and 13.5 Earth masses. Hydrogen and helium constitute only a small part of the total, with between 0.5 and 1.5 Earth masses. The remainder of the non-ice mass (0.5 to 3.7 Earth masses) is accounted for by rocky material.

The standard model of Uranus's structure is that it consists of three layers: a rocky (silicate/iron–nickel) core in the centre, an icy mantle in the middle and an outer gaseous hydrogen/helium envelope. The core is relatively small, with a mass of only 0.55 Earth masses and a radius less than 20% of Uranus'; the mantle comprises its bulk, with around 13.4 Earth masses, and the upper atmosphere is relatively insubstantial, weighing about 0.5 Earth masses and extending for the last 20% of Uranus's radius. Uranus's core density is around 9 g/cm3, with a pressure in the centre of 8 million bars (800 GPa) and a temperature of about 5000 K. The ice mantle is not in fact composed of ice in the conventional sense, but of a hot and dense fluid consisting of water, ammonia and other volatiles. This fluid, which has a high electrical conductivity, is sometimes called a water–ammonia ocean.

The extreme pressure and temperature deep within Uranus may break up the methane molecules, with the carbon atoms condensing into crystals of diamond that rain down through the mantle like hailstones. Very-high-pressure experiments at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggest that the base of the mantle may comprise an ocean of liquid diamond, with floating solid 'diamond-bergs'. Scientists also believe that rainfalls of solid diamonds occur on Uranus, as well as on Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune.

The bulk compositions of Uranus and Neptune are different from those of Jupiter and Saturn, with ice dominating over gases, hence justifying their separate classification as ice giants. There may be a layer of ionic water where the water molecules break down into a soup of hydrogen and oxygen ions, and deeper down superionic water in which the oxygen crystallises but the hydrogen ions move freely within the oxygen lattice.

Although the model considered above is reasonably standard, it is not unique; other models also satisfy observations. For instance, if substantial amounts of hydrogen and rocky material are mixed in the ice mantle, the total mass of ices in the interior will be lower, and, correspondingly, the total mass of rocks and hydrogen will be higher. Presently available data does not allow a scientific determination of which model is correct. The fluid interior structure of Uranus means that it has no solid surface. The gaseous atmosphere gradually transitions into the internal liquid layers. For the sake of convenience, a revolving oblate spheroid set at the point at which atmospheric pressure equals 1 bar (100 kPa) is conditionally designated as a "surface". It has equatorial and polar radii of 25,559 ± 4 km (15,881.6 ± 2.5 mi) and 24,973 ± 20 km (15,518 ± 12 mi), respectively. This surface is used throughout this article as a zero point for altitudes.


Structure of Uranus


Uranus Atmosphere (artist's perception)

Atmosphere :

Uranus's atmosphere taken during the Outer Planet Atmosphere Legacy (OPAL) program.

Although there is no well-defined solid surface within Uranus's interior, the outermost part of Uranus's gaseous envelope that is accessible to remote sensing is called its atmosphere. Remote-sensing capability extends down to roughly 300 km below the 1 bar (100 kPa) level, with a corresponding pressure around 100 bar (10 MPa) and temperature of 320 K (47 °C; 116 °F). The tenuous thermosphere extends over two planetary radii from the nominal surface, which is defined to lie at a pressure of 1 bar. The Uranian atmosphere can be divided into three layers: the troposphere, between altitudes of −300 and 50 km (−186 and 31 mi) and pressures from 100 to 0.1 bar (10 MPa to 10 kPa); the stratosphere, spanning altitudes between 50 and 4,000 km (31 and 2,485 mi) and pressures of between 0.1 and 10−10 bar (10 kPa to 10 µPa); and the thermosphere extending from 4,000 km to as high as 50,000 km from the surface. There is no mesosphere.

Composition :

The composition of Uranus's atmosphere is different from its bulk, consisting mainly of molecular hydrogen and helium. The helium molar fraction, i.e. the number of helium atoms per molecule of gas, is 0.15±0.03 in the upper troposphere, which corresponds to a mass fraction 0.26±0.05. This value is close to the protosolar helium mass fraction of 0.275±0.01, indicating that helium has not settled in its centre as it has in the gas giants. The third-most-abundant component of Uranus's atmosphere is methane (CH4). Methane has prominent absorption bands in the visible and near-infrared (IR), making Uranus aquamarine or cyan in colour. Methane molecules account for 2.3% of the atmosphere by molar fraction below the methane cloud deck at the pressure level of 1.3 bar (130 kPa); this represents about 20 to 30 times the carbon abundance found in the Sun. The mixing ratio[i] is much lower in the upper atmosphere due to its extremely low temperature, which lowers the saturation level and causes excess methane to freeze out. The abundances of less volatile compounds such as ammonia, water, and hydrogen sulfide in the deep atmosphere are poorly known. They are probably also higher than solar values. Along with methane, trace amounts of various hydrocarbons are found in the stratosphere of Uranus, which are thought to be produced from methane by photolysis induced by the solar ultraviolet(UV) radiation. They include ethane (C2H6), acetylene (C2H2), methylacetylene (CH3C2H), and diacetylene (C2HC2H). Spectroscopy has also uncovered traces of water vapour, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere, which can only originate from an external source such as infalling dust and comets.

Facts about Uranus :

  • Uranus was officially discovered by Sir William Herschel in 1781.
    It is too dim to have been seen by the ancients. At first Herschel thought it was a comet, but several years later it was confirmed as a planet. Herscal tried to have his discovery named “Georgian Sidus” after King George III. The name Uranus was suggested by astronomer Johann Bode. The name comes from the ancient Greek deity Ouranos.

  • Uranus turns on its axis once every 17 hours, 14 minutes.
    The planet rotates in a retrograde direction, opposite to the way Earth and most other planets turn.

  • Uranus makes one trip around the Sun every 84 Earth years.
    During some parts of its orbit one or the other of its poles point directly at the Sun and get about 42 years of direct sunlight. The rest of the time they are in darkness.

  • Uranus is often referred to as an “ice giant” planet.
    Like the other gas giants, it has a hydrogen upper layer, which has helium mixed in. Below that is an icy “mantle, which surrounds a rock and ice core. The upper atmosphere is made of water, ammonia and the methane ice crystals that give the planet its pale blue colour.

  • Uranus hits the coldest temperatures of any planet.
    With minimum atmospheric temperature of -224°C Uranus is nearly coldest planet in the solar system. While Neptune doesn’t get as cold as Uranus it is on average colder. The upper atmosphere of Uranus is covered by a methane haze which hides the storms that take place in the cloud decks.

  • Uranus has two sets of very thin dark coloured rings.
    The ring particles are small, ranging from a dust-sized particles to small boulders. There are eleven inner rings and two outer rings. They probably formed when one or more of Uranus’s moons were broken up in an impact. The first rings were discovered in 1977 with the two outer rings being discovered in Hubble Space Telescope images between 2003 and 2005.

  • Uranus’ moons are named after characters created by William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.
    These include Oberon, Titania and Miranda.  All are frozen worlds with dark surfaces. Some are ice and rock mixtures.  The most interesting Uranian moon is Miranda; it has ice canyons, terraces, and other strange-looking surface areas.

  • Only one spacecraft has flown by Uranus.
    In 1986, the Voyager 2 spacecraft swept past the planet at a distance of 81,500 km. It returned the first close-up images of the planet, its moons, and rings.


Rings of Uranus

3 D Model of Uranus

Source: NASA Visualization Technology Applications and Development (VTAD)

Source Credits : NASA, Wikipedia and Space Facts.