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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
This is a schematic showing how atmospheres form.
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Image from: The New Solar System

How a planet-to-be sweeps up nearby material to be part of itself

As shown in this picture, while they were forming in the solar nebula, the core of the planets-to-be drew material to themselves from the cloud of gas and dust around them. The bigger planets-to-be were able to draw even more material unto themselves because of gravity.

Big protoplanets such as Uranus and Neptune were positioned far out in the cloud where there was less gas. That is why Uranus and Neptune are not as big as Jupiter.


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Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

The position of Uranus when gas changed to ice

The position of the planets in the solar nebula affected how big they became and what they were made of. The blue line in the picture shows where it became so cold that ice began to form. Planets that...more

Uranus' Smog

Besides methane, Uranus' atmosphere contains even more complex molecules. These molecules form layers of smog over the clouds of Uranus, as shown in the picture. ...more

Uranus' Mesosphere

The mesosphere of Uranus is a region of balance between warming and cooling. That essentially means that nothing happens there. Except for diffusion, the atmosphere is still. Upper reaches of the atmosphere,...more

An Overview of Uranus' Atmospheric Structure

As on Earth, the atmosphere of Uranus consists of a troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, and thermosphere. The troposphere is the region where the visible clouds are to be found. The stratosphere, as...more

Altitude Changes of the Belts & Zones

On Uranus, as on Jupiter, the winds in the belts and zones blow first in one direction, then in the other direction. The clouds rise up in a belt, and drop down in a zone, as shown in this picture. This...more

Why Uranus looks like a "bullseye"

The clouds on Uranus, like Jupiter, are divided into stripes. On Uranus the stripes are hard to find. The left picture shows the north pole of Uranus. In this picture only the smog can be seen. The clouds,...more

Uranus Clouds, Overview

The clouds of Uranus, made of methane crystals, are found very low in the sky, and are difficult to find beneath the hazey smog of the pla net. False color is used, in the picture of Uranus to the right,...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA