This image, taken by Hubble, clearly shows Uranus and its rings.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA
Astronomer William Herschel is credited with the discovery of Uranus in 1781. He was using a telescope he built himself when he spotted a dim object. He watched it for years and determined it had to be a planet.
Herschel argued with other astronomers over the new planet's name. He wanted to name it after King George III of Great Britain while others wanted him to name it after himself. Finally, they chose to name it like the other planets-- after an ancient god. Uranus was named after Ouranos, one of the first gods in Greek mythology.
Most of what we know today about this distant planet came from the Voyager II flyby in 1986. Uranus is a very odd planet. It sits on its side with the north and south poles sticking out the sides.
Although Herschel discovered two of the planet's satellites, most of the rest were spotted by Voyager II. The total number of moons for Uranus is 21, the largest number for any planet in our solar system. With the help of more powerful telescopes, more moons may be revealed.
In 1977, scientists from Cornell University watched as Uranus appeared to blink several times. They later realized the blinking was caused by a band of rings surrounding the planet. These rings are very dark and narrow, unlike Saturn's, which are bright. Voyager II sent back many pictures that clearly show these rings.
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