On this evening in 1781, British astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822) discovered a light in the sky...a new planet... The first since prehistory and the first discovered with a telescope.
"A discovery," said Pearl S. Buck, "is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind."
He called the planet Georgium sidus, or star of George, after King George III, his patron. Sir William eventually also discovered Oberon and Titania, two of the (at least) 20 known moons of the planet.
In 1850, the planet was renamed Uranus (pronounced YOOR un nus) after the Greek mythological god of the sky. The solar system's third largest planet is surrounded by 11 rings and covered with bright clouds made of methane crystals.
"Revelations," said writer Serge Kahili King, "are found in clouds."
What the gaseous planet reveals is an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. Its mysterious bluish-green color is due to the red light absorbed by the atmosphere's methane gas. The seventh planet from the sun is bone-chilling cold, about -330°F (-200°C).
More than just a bunch of cold gas, Uranus also has a unique rotation axis, tilted at over 90 degrees to its orbit plane; it's a planet literally "tipped on its side." The heavenly body also spins backwards (retrograde motion) as it circles the sun about every 84 earth years.
Thanks to Voyager II in 1986 and the on-going studies of the Hubble Space Telescope, more and more is being discovered about this mysteriously magnetic, sideways, and beautiful planet. And always, our need to look up and explore continues...
As Nigel Hey explained in Why People Need Space, "Humans are thinkers, explorers, wonderers, and dreamers... So here we are now, side by side with astronomers and spacecraft engineers, looking forward to a limitless future in that incredible reservoir of wonder that is space."
Look! You WILL find great things.