Tuesday 12 March 2024

The planet Uranus was discovered on March 13th 1781

 On March 13th 1781 the planet we now call Uranus was discovered by the English astronomer William Herschel using a telescope he had made, the discovery from his garden in the city of Bath.

The discovery was totally unexpected as there were five known planets that could be seen with the naked eye, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, this plus the Sun and Moon made seven, a number that had always been seemed as an important one.

Herschel was not looking for another planet he was a very diligent astronomer, he was conducting a survey of the night sky. Herschel would go on to become one of the greatest astronomers of all time.

At first Herschel thought that the object he had found was a comet. However it was quickly realised that it was not a comet but a new planet.

The name Uranus means the sky god, it’s a gas giant although not as big as Jupiter or Saturn. It is very strangely tipped over on its side. All planets are slightly tilted on their axis, the Earth is tilted at 23 degrees, however Uranus is tilted over at an incredible 98 degrees. The best guess at the moment as to why this is the case is that at some point in the past a star may have passed close to the solar system and knocked Uranus onto its side. Uranus has a very thin ring system that was discovered by chance in 1977.

The first moons of Uranus were discovered by William Herschel in 1787 but the naming of the moons did not start until 1852. Of all the planets Uranus is the only one to have its moons named after characters named after works produced by William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope rather than from classical Greek mythology.. This idea was put forward by John Herschel who was the son of William Herschel.


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