LOCATION: Seventh gas ball from the sun
DISTANCE FROM THE SUN: 1,699,449,110 to 1,868,039,489 miles (2,734,998,229 to 3,006,318,143 kilometers)
AVERAGE TEMPERATURE: -357° F (-216° C)
LENGTH OF SPACE JOURNEY FROM EARTH TO URANUS: 9 years
GRAVITY: If you weigh 100 pounds (45 kilograms) on Earth, you’d weigh 91 pounds (41 kilograms) here.
You can’t help but tilt your head as you watch Uranus creep closer on your spaceship’s view screen. Something about this big ball of bluish-green gas just seems ... off. A closer look at the planet’s cloud bands and 13 faint rings gives you your answer: Uranus is off its rocker! Scientists suspect that a planet-size object knocked Uranus sideways in the early days of its formation. It has spun like a top toppling over ever since, which makes for some oddball seasons and decades devoid of even a glint of the sun’s faint light. The north pole is locked in more than 20 years of darkness in the winter and just as much sunlight in the summer, yet the temperature varies little here on the solar system’s coldest planet. Crank up the ship’s heater, young astronaut. You have wandered far from the sun.
Like Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus is a gas giant—a ball of gas surrounding an Earth-size core of hot liquids. More specifically, Uranus is considered an “ice giant” because its atmosphere is composed mostly of “icy” water, ammonia, and methane. Researchers have found that Uranus’ crushing atmosphere can compress methane into precious rocks. Those methane clouds drifting far below your ship might be raining diamonds.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Uranus (along with Neptune) is one of the smaller gas giants, but it’s still a giant! Nearly 60 Earths could cram inside Uranus.
• Not only is Uranus knocked on its side, it also spins in the opposite direction (the only other planet with such a “retrograde” rotation is Venus).
• Uranus’ year lasts 84 Earth years, but its day is just 17 hours.