The Other Blue Planet

What gives the planet Uranus its bluish color?

And the answer: methane gas.

The atmosphere of Uranus is made up of hydrogen, helium, and methane. Methane gas absorbs red light from the sun and reflects a bluish color back into space, causing human eyes to see it as a blue planet.

Uranus was officially discovered in 1781 by William Herschel, making it the first planet to be found using a telescope. This ice giant, measuring in at around 4x the size of Earth, is known as the "sideways planet." Though it rotates east to west like its distant sister, Venus, Uranus completes rotations uniquely on its side. Consequently, weather patterns at the north pole are extreme and long-lasting, resulting in 21 years of nighttime in the winter and 21 years of daytime in the winter.

Contrary to popular belief, red-giant Saturn is not the only planet in the neighborhood that is surrounded by a collection of rings. Uranus has two sets of very thin, dark-colored rings, 11 inner and two outer. Its particles range from dust to boulder-sized rocks that were likely formed when one or more of Uranus' moons were broken up in impact.

Uranus is also orbited by over 25 moons. Its collection includes (but is not limited to) Oberon, Titania, and Miranda, all frozen worlds with dark surfaces. All of Uranus' moons are named after characters created by William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.

To learn more about our distant ice giant, check out the National Geographic video below.

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