Planetary scientists can say some pretty mean things abut planets, especially when they’re competing over limited funding and telescope time. That’s probably why Uranus has frequently been described as “boring.”
Aside from the whole spinning sideways thing, Uranus doesn’t look particularly exciting. The entire planet is just a uniform cyan color with no distinguishing features. At least that’s how it appears to the unaided human eye.
Observations in non-visible wavelengths of light reveal a more complex and interesting world, with atmospheric belts and zones that look similar to what we’ve seen on Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune.
And in 2014, the seventh planet from the Sun became a lot more interesting. Both professional and amateur astronomers began reporting anomalous bright spots in Uranus’s atmosphere. These bright spots were interesting enough to deserve observation time on the Hubble Space Telescope, which confirmed in October 2014 (one year ago this month!) that they were storm clouds.
It seems these storms are seasonal. Because of Uranus’s 98º tilt, the changing of the seasons are much more dramatic than would otherwise be expected, but since a Uranian year is over 84 Earth years long, we don’t get to see this happen very often.
As part of the 2015 Mission to the Solar System, I’ve spent almost a whole month studying Uranus (stop laughing). I kind of feel bad for this poor planet. Uranus is stuck with an embarrassing name, and it’s been too often neglected and misunderstood. But like many things in life, there’s a lot more to it than at first meets the eye.
Uranus in True and False Color from NASA.
Giant Methane Storms on Uranus from Phys.org.
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Today’s post is part of Uranus month for the 2015 Mission to the Solar System. Click here to find out more about this special series.