Posts Tagged 'Uranus'

Cracking jokes about Uranus makes you look like an…

The planet Uranus as seen by Voyager 2 about a week after its flyby. Click the image for more information on how the image was created. [Credit: NASA / JPL / Emily Lakdawalla]

The planet Uranus as seen by Voyager 2 about a week after its flyby. Click the image for more information on how the image was created. [Credit: NASA / JPL / Emily Lakdawalla]

It never fails: every time someone publishes new research or even mentions the planet Uranus, many people feel inclined to make jokes. The same jokes. Yet, those same people will also act like nobody has ever seen the “anus” part of the planet’s name before. Like a political writer seeing the same jokes about Anthony Weiner’s name, I’m feeling a little worn out. And as with Weiner, the humor relies on mispronouncing the name.* I mean, at least try, people! I know I don’t have a sense of humor, but I expect a little creativity from jokes.

The other associated complaint is that by mocking the name Uranus, you end up missing out on a very weird, poorly understood planet. Unlike all the other large worlds in the Solar System, Uranus and Neptune have been visited only once: by Voyager 2. (Yo momma’s so ugly, Voyager accelerated while leaving Earth to get away from her.) Uranus is tipped over almost completely, so its north pole nearly lies in the plane of its orbit — the likely sign of a cataclysmic impact early in the Solar System’s history. That indicates very long alternating seasons of perpetual (albeit weak) sunshine and constant darkness, which no doubt affects the behavior of the planet’s atmosphere.

Unlike their larger cousins Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have only a few thin clouds high in the atmosphere, but their atmospheres are churned constantly by extremely high winds. However, Uranus returns much less energy to space than it receives from the Sun, in contrast to Neptune. Both planets consist of a vast global “ocean” of compressed water, methane, and ammonia, but whether they have rocky cores or not is unknown. (On the other hand, yo momma’s so massive, she has a molten core of chocolate.)

The interesting aspects of Uranus don’t end at the cloudtops. The planet has a number of interesting satellites, including the truly bizarre moon Miranda, which has wildly varying terrain indicating a violent past. Uranus also has a set of dark rings, probably ice mixed with darker materials, including possibly organic compounds. That makes the ring particles more like comets than Saturn’s rings, which are much more reflective. (Yo momma’s so massive, she tidally disrupts cookies into an orbiting ring of crumbs.)

Uranus is also the only planet in the Solar System with satellites not named for mythological figures. Instead, they’re named for characters from Shakespeare and Alexander Pope: Oberon, Titania, Miranda, and so forth. (No moon named for Bottom yet, even though yo momma keeps lobbying for it.) Thanks to Loren Riley for reminding me of this fact in the comments.

Currently, nobody has serious plans to send another probe to Uranus or Neptune, a true shame in my opinion. Both planets are hard to get to, of course, and to put a probe in orbit (like Cassini orbiting Saturn) would require figuring out how to manage fuel between high speed to get the robot there in a reasonable amount of time and braking once it arrived. And unlike with Voyager 2, the planets are no longer in the ideal position for a “grand tour”, so successive flybys aren’t practical. But isn’t it worth it? Just look at these newly processed images of the planets by Emily Lakdawalla! They’re interesting! 

* Thanks to the Latinization of the name, we lost the initial O, but a closer spelling to the original Greek would be Ouranos, pronounced roughly “OOrahnes”. Many of us compromise by pronouncing it “YURehnes”, with the accent on the first syllable and a secondary stress on the second.

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