|Semi-major axis (AU)
|Orbital Period (Years)
|Inclination to Sun's equator (°)
|Rotation Period (Days)
|Axial Tilt (°)
|H2, He, CH4
On March 13, 1781, William Herschel, a Hanoverian astronomer who had emigrated to England, having abandoned the study of music to devote himself to the sublime science of the Heavens, was observing the vast[Pg 163] fields with their constellations of golden stars, when he perceived a luminous point that appeared to him to exceed that of the other celestial luminaries in diameter. He replaced the magnification of his telescope by more powerful eye-pieces, and found that the apparent diameter of the orb increased proportionately with the amplification of the power, which does not happen in the case of stars at infinite distance. His observations on the following evenings enabled him to note the slow and imperceptible movement of this star upon the celestial sphere, and left him in no further doubt: there was no star, but some much nearer orb, in all probability a comet, for the great astronomer dared not predict the discovery of a new planet. And it was thus, under the name of cometary orb, that the seventh child of the Sun was announced. The astronomers sought to determine the motions of the new arrival, to discover for it an elliptical orbit such as most comets have. But their efforts were vain, and after several months' study the conclusion was reached that here was a new planet, throwing back the limits of the solar system to a point far beyond that of the Saturnian frontier, as admitted from antiquity.
This new world received the name of Uranus, father of Saturn, his nearest neighbor in the solar empire. Uranus shines in the firmament as a small star of[Pg 164] sixth magnitude, invisible to the unaided eye for normal sight, at a distance of 2,831,000,000 kilometers (1,755,000,000 miles) from the Sun. Smaller than Jupiter and Saturn, this planet is yet larger than Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the Earth together, thus presenting proportions that claim our respect and admiration.
His diameter may be taken at about 55,000 kilometers (34,200 miles), that is, rather more than four times the breadth of the terrestrial diameter. Sixty-nine times more voluminous than the Earth, and seventeen times more extensive in surface, this new world is much less than our own in density. The matter of which it is composed is nearly five times lighter than that of our globe.
Spectral analysis shows that this distant planet is surrounded with an atmosphere very different from that which we breathe, enclosing gases that do not exist in ours.
The Uranian globe courses over the fields of infinity in a vast orbit seventeen times larger than our own, and its revolution lasts 36,688 days, i.e., 84 years, 8 days. It travels slowly and sadly under the pale and languishing rays of the Sun, which sends it nearly three hundred times less of light and heat than we receive. At this distance the solar disk would present a diameter seventeen times smaller than that which we admire, and a[Pg 165] surface three hundred times less vast. A dull world indeed! And what an interminable year! The idle people who are in the habit of being bored must find time even longer upon Uranus than upon our little Earth, where the days pass so rapidly. And if matters are arranged there as here, a babe of a year old, beginning to babble in its nurse's arms, would already have lived as long as an old man of eighty-four in this world.
But what most seriously complicates the Calendar of the Uranians is the fact that the four moons which accompany the planet accomplish their revolution in four different kinds of months, in two, four, eight, and thirteen days, as is shown in the following table:
|Distance from the planet.
|Time of revolution.
The most curious fact is that these satellites do not rotate like those of the other planets. While the moons of the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn accomplish their revolution from east to west, the satellites of Uranus rotate in a plane almost perpendicular to the ecliptic, and it is doubtless the same for the rotation of the planet. If we had to quit the Earth, and fixate ourselves upon[Pg 166] another world, we should prefer Mars to Uranus, where everything must be so different from terrestrial arrangements? But who knows? Perhaps, after all, this planet might afford us some agreeable surprises. Il ne faut jurer de rien.