Uranus is the second furthest planet from the Sun and is the third largest within our solar system at fourteen and a half times larger than the Earth. As with the other gas giants it shares its distinction with, the planet’s surface is made up of rock and ice with large traces of helium and hydrogen present. With surface temperatures reaching negative three hundred seventy-one degrees Ferinheight, Uranus is by far the coldest planet within our solar system. Uranus can be spotted with the naked eye within darkened skies, but its glow is much fainter than other recognizable planets. The surface is covered in a thick cloud structure saturated with water at lower levels and methane within the uppermost layer. High winds are also experienced on the planet, which are thought to reach speeds in excess of five hundred and sixty miles per hour.
A unique feature of Uranus is the configuration of its axis, which is almost completely sideways and typically where the equator would be on other planets. Like Saturn, Uranus does have several rings that orbit around the equator; but due to its unique positioning they instead appear above and below the target, much like the appearance of a tire on a wheel. There are thirteen total rings in all, and from what astronomers can tell they did not form with Uranus because of their relatively low density. A collision with the planet and one of the moons is one of the most likely scenarios for their formation.
Despite Uranus’s large size, its density is higher than only Saturn’s. This tells scientists that a rocky core is likely, with ice contained within the mantle and an outer region made up of gaseous forms of hydrogen and helium. Because a large portion of its interior is composed of ice or various liquids, both Neptune and Uranus are often referred to as ice giants instead of gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter. There are those within the scientific community, however, that do not agree with these assumptions and feel the separate naming classifications are premature since other theories have been presented that could possibly account for the low density.
Another interesting feature of Uranus is its 27 moons with names contrived from characters within the works of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope, The five main satellites are Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon; and each of them are expected to be as much as fifty percent ice combined with rock. From what little evidence there is available about this region within our solar system, it appears that each of these natural satellites were formed at different times. Ariel, for example, has a very smooth surface with very few craters while Umbriel and Oberon are covered with multiple large impact zones.
As previously mentioned, much of how Uranus formed and its current makeup is still completely unkown due to a lack of concrete data. The only time Uranus has been visited was by NASA’s Voyager Two spacecraft in January of 1986. Although much of the planet, its rings, the atmosphere, and the five largest moons were partially mapped during that fly-by there is still much to be discovered. There is currenty no return mission scheduled, so it is unknown when more information may become available to explain several of Uranus’s more perplexing features.