Discovery of Uranus | Facts & History

Voyager 2 image showing Uranus in true and false color. Image via NASA

You might be able to see Uranus without a telescope, if you’ve got really good eyesight and can find a place where the light pollution is non-existent. It’s solely attainable with the right conditions, and if you know exactly where to look. And for thousands of years, scholars and astronomers had been in the process of doing just that.

Despite all these collective efforts, Uranus wasn’t officially discovered until 1781. Ancient Babylonians were aware of all of the planets from Mercury to Saturn long before that. Why were people not successful for a long time to find lonely Uranus? Let’s all dwell deep into this and figure out the answers.

UranusAmateur British astronomer William Herschel was the first one to discover Uranus on 13th March 1781. It was initially reported on 26th April 1781 as a “comet”. Uranus was, in fact, observed many a time before it was designated as a planet but it was generally mistaken for a star.

William Herschel discovered Uranus by accident with his telescope while surveying all-stars down to those about 10 times dimmer than were observable by the naked eye. One “star” seemed distinct and aloof, and within a year Uranus was proven to be following a planetary orbit. This enabled the object to be soon universally accepted as a new planet.

We all know that Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun but also it was the first planet to be discovered with the use of a telescope. It’s most distinct feature is that its axis sideways in comparison to other planets i.e. its north and south poles are aligned in one single line where other planets have their equators. It has also been named after the Greek sky deity Ouranos, the earliest of the lords of the heavens.

When he bestowed his discovery to the Royal Society, he maintained this theory, however additionally likened it to a planet. As was recorded within the Journal of the Royal Society and Royal Astronomical Society on the occasion of his presentation:

Portrait of Sir William Herschel,

(Portrait of Sir William Herschel, by Lewis Francis Abbot (1784). Credit: Wikipedia Commons/National Portrait Gallery)

“The power I had on once I initial saw the extraterrestrial object was 227. From expertise I do know that the diameters of the mounted stars don’t seem to be proportionately enlarged with higher powers, as planets are; thus I currently place the powers at 460 and 932, and located that the diameter of the extraterrestrial object raised in proportion to the ability, because it needs to be, on the supposition of its not being a fixed star, whereas the diameters of the celebs to that I compared it wasn’t raised within the same magnitude relation. Moreover, the extraterrestrial object being enlarged a lot of on the far side what its light-weight would admit of, appeared hazy and unclear with these nice powers, while the stars preserved that luster and distinctness which from several thousand observations I knew they’d retain. The sequel has shown that my surmises were tenable, this proving to be the extraterrestrial object we’ve got latterly discovered.”

The only spacecraft to travel to Uranus is Voyager 2 which passed in 1986 passing at a distance of 81500 km. Uranus has 2 sets of rings, 9 inner rings, and 2 outer rings. The first set of rings was discovered in 1977 and also the second set was discovered in 2003 by the Edwin Powell Hubble area Telescope.

Actually, it wasn’t a matter of finding it but it was the matter of categorizing it as a planet. This majorly happened because people were not realizing what they were seeing in the first attempts. People who may have seen Uranus as early as 128 B.C. but they regarded it as a star each time they saw it. When Herschel told people about the new “comet”, they were not clear but confused. The problem lies with the fact that a comet as bright as this object would have to be pretty close to the sun, but a comet that close to the sun would have to be in motion through the sky much faster than this thing was moving. It also didn’t possess a coma or a tail as comets have.

The object was much under the eyes of these astronomers and they began to study the object too. They came to know that its orbit seemed pretty close to circular—just like the orbit of a planet. That was sufficient for most of them to call it a planet. By 1783, Herschel had also accepted that it must be a planet. After he tried to name it after King George III, the planet was named Uranus, after the Greek god of the sky.

Conclusion – Herschel had, in fact, stumbled upon the discovery Uranus — the first new planet discovered throughout all of human history and one of the now-known ice giants. Locating this ice giant was the most revolutionary discovery since Galileo spotted the moons of Jupiter 170 years earlier. Herschel became an instant celebrity and won a stipend from the King of England that allowed him to become a full-time astronomer.

Consequences – The Discovery of Uranus paved the way for the discovery of Neptune. Scientists kept close tabs on the objects surrounding Uranus. They noticed that Uranus did behave as it should. Its orbit seemed to be gently tugged by some far-off object. Two clever astronomers named John Couch Adams and Urbain Le Verrier used those slight tugs to predict where such an object might be located

Sweta Sumant, Educator.


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