Why are astronomers fascinated by Uranus? Some have even gone so far as to claim it is the best darn planet in the Solar System. The gringa says, “Hey! What about Earth and Mars? Aren’t they the ones NASA is making such a fuss over? Trying to save one and explore the other?”
Well, astronomical appreciation for Uranus is because it is just so bizarre. Bizarre, huh? Like, odd rainbow colored creatures with spiny noses and squishy springs for appendages and gumballs for tails? Well, no, not quite that bizarre.
Uranus is bizarre because, apparently, it’s a bit lazy. You see, other planets spin around on their axis, or axi, the gringa’s not quite sure about the plural spelling of axis, but you know what I mean. To get back to the point, yes, Uranus is lazy. It does not spin on its axis like other planets. It lays on its side.
Another oddity is that, even though it is not the farthest planet from the Sun, it is the coldest. Perhaps that’s because it’s so darn lazy. It’s never up, spinning around creating friction and heat and all that good, heat-generating stuff that movement creates.
Also, Uranus is confused and misplaces things, things like its magnetic field. Its magnetic field is NOT where it’s supposed to be. Uranus is kind of like a teenager. It lays about doing a lot of nothing and is messy, laying other things about where they are not supposed to be.
One more thing that makes Uranus like a teenager is its greenish atmosphere. It’s moody. It vacillates between dull boredom and doing absolute nothing to crazy business.
Uranus also has an identity crisis. You know how a parent names a child, like, say, the gringa named her eldest son, Zachary, then he goes off to school and engages in some mild rebellion to assert his independence and comes home with a name like, say, Milkshake? Yes, that’s Uranus, too. While all the other planets were named after Roman gods, Uranus had to go and be different and have a name after a Greek god instead, Ouranos, the sky father, who beget Saturn (aka Cronus) and Jupiter (aka Zeus).
Another aspect of Uranus is, because of its laziness and slow motion movement, for a very long time it was thought to be a star. It wasn’t until 1781 that Sir William Hershel discovered that it was actually a planet. Poor Uranus, so misunderstood and underestimated.
If we chose to colonize Uranus instead of Mars, life would be rather odd living on a sideways planet. Summer would last for twenty years without a single sunset and winter would be just as long, spent entirely in darkness. The gringa would surely go mad.
It takes the planet over eighty years to orbit the sun. Surrounded by its 27 moons (that we know about) and ringed about by 13 circlets of rock and spacedust, Uranus plods along at its own snail’s pace. And those moons and rings are just as odd as the planet they surround.
One ring is made up completely of spacedust astronomers think came from the moon named Mab when it was hit by asteroids. Another ring has simply disappeared since the last image received while another moved about and is now somewhere else. But, perhaps the strangest ring of all is the one that “breathes”. Every few hours it expands and then contracts throughout a five kilometer difference. Now that’s just weird.
The moons don’t just orbit Uranus but seem to engage in a dance. They are not considered stable because they are constantly pushing and pulling one another with their different gravities. Scientists expect a few will eventually crash into one another and then who knows what kind of changes will develop. Maybe the planet will get another ring or two.
And with an atmosphere of hydrogen, helium, methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, the gringa’s pretty sure it would be a very unpleasant place to set up household. Everyone would speak ridiculously, no more opera and musicals to appreciate. The air would also smell like a big fart, everywhere, and your eyes would sting and tear. There are also storms with winds over 100 mph that can last for years.
However, one oddity that the gringa thinks may just make all that nastiness about the stinky, unpleasant air worth the sacrifice is what scientists think about the “oceans” of Uranus. Underneath those thick, smelly gas clouds there could be an “ocean” of liquid diamonds! For heaven’s sake! You don’t say?! The gringa has just GOT to know if this is true! Can you imagine! If it is, every single woman I know who loves sparkly things will be on the first commercial rocket, no matter the cost. Goodbye Earth!
So, what the heck happened to Uranus? What got it knocked off its axis? Some experts theorize a large moon, that is long since extinct, had a powerful gravitational pull that overpowered the planet. Others consider that perhaps it had a cosmic collision with something larger than Earth.
Unfortunately, NASA doesn’t expect to dig in to a deeply involved study of this mysterious planet anytime soon. We just don’t have the technology developed that can effectively get an orbiter that far away (almost 2 billion miles) and successfully cope with the instability of all the oddities of Uranus. But, with NASA, the word is never “impossible”. The word is always, well, the two words are always, “not yet”. So, the gringa hopes somewhere there are some NASA scientists as incredibly curious as herself and are being some Johnnies-on-the-spot getting this technology developed. I just have to know more!
Source & Photo Credit: www.nasa.gov