Initial Uranus Images Amazed Us

Uranus was discovered on March 13, 1781, but after more than 200 years of continued investigation, there was still a great deal left unknown about the planet. In 1986, the NASA Voyager 2 craft attempted alleviate this problem. Voyager 2, which is still actively traveling in the outward regions of our solar system, was given the task of gathering important information about Uranus. NASA’s Voyager probe was able to take thousands of high resolution photographs and collect important data that would give scientists more information about Uranus than they were able to acquire in the last two centuries.

The Voyager 2 made many important and shocking discoveries when it passed Uranus in 1986. It is now known that Uranus has 21 moons orbiting the planet, but prior to Voyager’s mission, scientists were only aware of five. Voyager was able to quickly discover ten new moons, as well as discovering two additional planetary rings, which brought the known total to eleven. Close up photos of Uranus’s moons revealed shocking geological features to scientists. Though they previously believed the moons would be dark, featureless chunks of ice, Uranus’s moons actually revealed river-like canyons, craters and a host of other distinctive features. After the investigation of the planet’s moons, Voyager 2 was able to gather information about specific planetary features. Voyager gathered data about the planet’s chemical composition, axis rotation, unique weather patterns, magnetic field and planetary tilt. The investigation revealed a variety of shocking discoveries. Uranus has the most unique axial tilts in our solar system with a tilt of 97.7°. In more basic terms, this means that Uranus actually rotates on its sides, which translates to the planet’s north and south poles being located where most planets’ equators would be found. Voyager 2 also discovered oddities within Uranus’s magnetic field. The previously held theory about the planet’s magnetic field, which believed that Uranus’s magnetic field would correlate with solar wind, was disproved after Voyager’s flyby. In actuality, the magnetic field is not aligned with the planet’s center–it can actually be found closer to the planet’s South Pole–and the field is asymmetric. The result of this non-traditional magnetic field orientation is varying strengths at opposing poles.

Voyager 2 would continue on its mission to Neptune and beyond with many questions still unanswered and more discouraging yet, many new questions created. Scientists are still struggling to try to explain for Uranus’s many unique features. The fact that the planet rotates on its side and has an asymmetric magnetic field goes against many preexisting beliefs about planetary formation. The terrain of Uranus’s moons raises many questions about how the satellites were created and what cosmic events led to the formation of valleys and craters. Though it may be years before these questions are answered, the value of the Voyager 2 flyby is undeniable. To this day, Voyager 2 is the only space craft that has studied Uranus and played a large role in shaping the understanding of the planet that scientists have today.




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