INFOMAN

URANUS

FIRST OF THE

TRANSPERSONAL OUTER PLANETS

Astronomy

Although Uranus is sometimes visible to the naked eye at magnitude 5.5, it was unknown until the eighteenth century. It was discovered with a telescope larger than anyone else's by an organist and amateur astronomer, Sir William Herschel (b. 15 November 1738, Hanover; d. 25 August 1822, Slough), from the garden of his home at 19 New King Street, Bath. It was found at 24 27' Gemini on 13 March 1781 between 2200 hr and 2300 hr LT, and was noted to be an unusual star "visibly larger than the rest". It was at first taken by him to be a comet. The following month, 26 April, when he made his 'An Account of a Comet' report at the Royal Society he said that the object was in fact disc-shaped and in motion against the stars, and its true nature was gradually realised. It was announced as a planet by Lexell in St Petersburg and La Place, France, in 1982, and Herschel published the information in England on 7 November 1782. It was the first planet to be discovered since prehistoric times, particularly startling since until then the solar system was thought only to extend to the limit of Saturn's orbit. The discovery made Herschel's name and he was able to become a professional astronomer. Although scientists had observed the 'star' on at least 22 occasions previously, none had realised its significance.
At the time Herschel called the planet Georgium Sidus (George's Star) after his sovereign patron, George III. The French preferred the name Herschel, presumably not wishing to deify an English ruler, and other suggestions included Hypercronius. Johann Elert Bode had suggested the name Uranus in the year of its discovery, and this eventually became accepted by the 1790s after support from John Couch Adams.
Uranus is twice as far from the Sun as Saturn, at an average distance of 1,783 million miles. It takes 84.01 years to complete its solar circuit, travelling 4 per year as viewed from Earth. Its orbit has an eccentricity of 0.0472.
Uranus has a diameter of 29,000 miles, so is about four times larger than Earth, or half the size of Saturn, and has a fast rotation period of 17 14.4' hours, explaining its flattened shape. Its atmosphere consists of hydrogen, helium, methane and ammonia surrounding a core of ice and rock, with a temperature of -200C and no strong internal heat source. One area of its surface emits a peculiar ultra-violet glow. It has been found to have an unusually high axial inclination of 97 52'. It is technically retrograde, with each pole pointing alternately towards the Sun. Unlike all the other planets, its axis is virtually in the plane of its orbit, so twice in each orbit of the Sun the axis is at right angles to the direction of the Sun. The reason for its axial tilt is not known. It has been posited that it was struck by a massive body and knocked sideways, though this would not explain why its moons move virtually in its equatorial plane. Earth, Mars, Saturn and Neptune have an axial tilt of between 23 to 29 degrees.
Dr Antonio Brunini suggested in 1993 that Uranus had a change of orbit in June 1897, equal to a speed of 100 ft per hour. This would have been due to running into a large object of at least 600 miles across, which fell from the Kuiper belt, and this would account for the anomalies of its orbit.
Voyager 2 by-passed Uranus on 24 January 1986 and established that it has a reasonably strong magnetic field, but its magnetic axis is unaccountably inclined to the rotational axis by nearly 60 and is perceptibly offset from the centre of the globe. Voyager 2 also confirmed Uranus's ring system, first discovered in 1977 during the occultation of the star SAO 158687. These eleven rings surrounding its equator are not circular and not all symmetrical, wobbling like an unbalanced wheel, and they are dark, not light like Saturn's, containing rock, not water-ice. The rings may be young and impermanent features of the Uranian system. Uranus also has the brightest clouds in the outer Solar System.
Uranus and Neptune are conjunct every 171 to 171.403 years, and the first contact of the recent conjunction occurred at 19 Capricorn, first on 2nd February 1993, then on 20 August 1993, and finally on 24 October, again at the same degree. Uranus is conjunct with Pluto every 254.280 years. The last of these began on 9 October 1965 at 17 Virgo. In 2007 the Sun will shine directly above Uranus' equator, a Uranian mid-summer which will be accompanied by raging, violent storms, with clouds of condensing crystal methane.

Mythology

The glyph for Uranus derives from its original name of Herschel, the 'H' surmounting the circle of spirit. The two semicircles denote the soul of man and the divine soul of divine manifestation, each linked to the other by the cross of matter. Television is associated with Uranus and the first television aeriels resemble this symbol. The make-up of Uranus is largely identified with that of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (b. 15 August 1769, 0952 hr LMT, Ajaccio, Corsica; d. 5 May 1821 in exile, St Helena). His domination of the Western world coincided with the assimilation of the newly discovered planet into the astrological realms. His new ideas were considered an embodiment of the new 'star', and the increased importance of Aquarius, which Uranus was ultimately deemed to co-rule, dates from this period.
Its mythological name was derived from the existing series of planets' names: Saturn was the father of Jupiter, and Uranus was the father of Saturn (Kronos). In Greek myth he is Ouranos, the primal god of heaven (not represented by a physical body), who generated the physical universe when he mated with his mother-sister Gaia (Rhea), the earth goddess, and produced the race of Titans and giants. Eventually he was overthrown and castrated by his son Kronos. To the Hindus he is the great god Varuna, "the Universal encompasser, the all embracer...Space, the maker of Heaven and Earth, since both manifested out of his seed."

Astrology

Even before its discovery astrologers had referred to a hypothetical extra-saturnine planet which they called Ouranos. Uranus is the first of three new planets added to the traditional seven of the ancient astrological model, the others being Neptune and Pluto. The discovery of Uranus challenged the astrological tradition of thousands of years, that the seven planets formed an absolute cosmic structure. The known solar system was suddenly doubled in size, and the ancient seven-planet model had been demolished.
The discovery of Uranus is seen as being linked to the evolution of modern consciousness; new technology, new understanding, a time of Enlightenment. At the time of Uranus's discovery the French and American Revolutions were under way, as was the Industrial Revolution, and electricity was being harnessed (Galvani's research into the electric current was published a decade later), paving the way for the aeroplane, radio and television. The democratic rights of the individual were also being realised for the first time.
Uranus the Magician is seen as a higher octave of Mercury, a planet of change, marking social or personal revolutions and disruptions. When working beneficially it can be regarded as magnetic, original, unconventional and reforming; but when over-stretched it can lapse into mere eccentricity, pointless rebellion, violence and crime. Its associations with eccentricity were seemingly astronomically justified by Voyager's discoveries of its large-scale axial and rotational anomalies.
The first astrologer to confirm the destructive and erratic nature of the planet, by direct observation of its transits, was the eccentric astrologer John Varley, a friend of William Blake. 
Recently, Uranus has come to be regarded as the ruler of Aquarius, partially displacing the traditional ruler, Saturn. It is exalted in Scorpio, in fall in Taurus, and in its detriment in Leo. In esoteric astrology, Uranus rules Libra. Despite its associations with intuition, Uranus is essentially a masculine planet, applying to left-brain functions. However, its connections with Mercury could suggest the embodiment of some feminine principles.
Since Uranus spends approximately seven years in each sign the result is a mini-generation of individuals, forming a unique Uranus-group. The rings of Uranus link with those of Jupiter and Saturn to form a subtle realm in which insight and perception are developed, and where responsibilities for actions based on these perceptions are sensed.
Uranus signifies our sense of originality; the desire for freedom and independence; self-liberation; self-reliance; to come to a limit and then transcend it; our wilfulness and craving for novelty and change; the hankering after the new at the expense of the old; the urge to be different; the need to express our own individuality; the rejection of the commonplace and familiar; our ability for self-discovery and awareness; free enterprise; autonomy; inter-counter dependence; the dependence needed to get to independence; the need to listen to our own ego.
Uranus has little to do with its mythological namesake, but more closely resembles the rebel Titan, Prometheus, who helped overthrow Kronos (Saturn) and tricked Zeus (Jupiter).

THE MOONS OF URANUS

Astronomy

Five Uranian moons were known to exist prior to the Voyager 2 mission. Ten new satellites were then found, all in closer orbit to Uranus than those previously known. Two more were confirmed in 1997 and 1 in 1999, and by 2003 the total had reached twenty-two.
In October 2003 astronomers confirmed five new moons, all rather small. Each is around 6 miles across. With these additions, Uranus now has 27 moons in total, ranking it third, behind Jupiter and Saturn.
Cordelia is the nearest to the planet at a distance of 30,740 miles, and is the smallest with a diameter of 16 miles. It falls within the ring system. Cordelia and Ophelia, the next in the series, are the shepherd satellites of Uranus's ring. Bianca, Cressida, Desdemona, Juliet, Portia, Rosalind and Belinda are the next, with Puck completing the ten as the largest, with a diameter of 96 miles and a distance of 53,438 miles from Uranus. Puck was the first of these to be discovered, on 30 December 1985, and Voyager 2 was able to photograph it at close approach on 24 January 1986. Portia had by then been found, on 3 January 1986. All 10 were in continuous sunlight after 1975, but in 2000 Cordelia re-entered the shadow of Uranus with each orbit, and by 2002 the other 9 had  followed suit.
The most recent discovery prior to this was Miranda by Gerard Kuiper in 1948, using the 82-inch McDonald Observatory reflector. It is the smallest of the larger satellites, with a diameter of 293 miles, and orbits Uranus every 1.414 days at a distance of 80,405 miles. It is covered in grooves, and has cliffs of ice 10 miles high. Miranda has been completely broken up into separate lumps of rock and ice, and then re-formed from its components, several times in its history. Initially, when re-formed, all the components are scrambled, but as the interior heats up, the ice spreads to the surface, while the rocks fall back to the centre. Saturn's moon Enceladus may have undergone the same phenomena.
Ariel and Umbriel were discovered in 1851 by William Lassell (Umbriel had previously been glimpsed by Herschel). Umbriel is fainter than Ariel but slightly larger, 726 miles to Ariel's 719 miles, and takes 4.144 days to orbit Uranus.
Ariel was imaged in detail by Voyager 2 over 35 per cent of its globe in January 1986, and found to comprise a mixture of a rock core surrounded by an ice mantle of water and ammonia. Parts of Ariel's surface are cratered, though less than any other moons of Uranus, suggesting it is the youngest. Each cratered section is separated by a series of ridges, which date from the same period, and steep-sided troughs, or chasmata, run through both features. The rest of the surface is made up of plains, with varying densities of craters, suggesting the plains formed over a long period, and has evidence of fluid volcanism. Some of the chasmata have become flooded by icy volcanic flows to form the plains material. Ariel has an orbital period of 2.52 days.
The final two of the ten, Titania and Oberon were discovered by Herschel himself in 1787, six years after his historic discovery of the planet. Titania is the largest satellite, most strongly resembling Ariel, with a diameter of 981 miles and an orbital period of 8.706 days. Oberon, only marginally smaller at 946 miles, but more heavily cratered, like Umbriel, is the furthest away, with a mean distance from Uranus of 362,570 miles and a period of revolution of 13.463 days. Its craters include Hamlet, Othello and Falstaff.
Uranus's 16th and 17th moons, S/1997 U1 and S/1997 U2 (preliminary designations), were discovered on 6/7 September 1997 using the Hale Telescope sited on Palomar Mountain in California, the faintest to be discovered from the ground. The discoverers were Brett Gladman of the University of Toronto, Philip Nicholson and Joseph Burns of Cornell University, and JJ Kavelaars of McMaster University. Both moons have eccentric orbits, which are inclined to the equatorial plane, ranging from 2-5.5 million miles from Uranus. All the other gas-giant planets have satellites of this type, but none were previously known to exist around Uranus. Both are thought to have been captured by Uranus's gravity from their orbit of the Sun, early in solar system history, probably as comets. Both appear unusually red, indicating an icy hydrocarbon surface that had been bombarded by energetic particles.
The 18th moon, S/1986 U10, was found from a study of Voyager 2 images. It is about 25 miles in diameter, and of icy composition. It is about 32,000 miles above the cloud-tops of Uranus. Its orbital and rotation periods are both about 15 hour 18 minutes. The original discovery image was taken on 23 January 1986, and six other images were found to contain the new moon. A hundred times nearer than the previous two, it has an orbit almost identical to its neighbour Belinda, so that they pass one another once each month, the first example of two objects in nearby orbits passing each other so slowly. The discovery was made in 1999 by Erich Karkoschka from the University of Arizona in Tucson,  but as his find could not be confirmed by telescopes back on Earth, two years later the International Astronomical Union decided to remove it from its official list. Luckily, in 2003 observations made on August 25th using the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys, verified Karkoschka's claim. The 24th-magnitude object was found about 48 degrees ahead of its predicted position.

Mythology

The moons of Uranus are named after Shakespearian characters. Cordelia is Lear's youngest daughter in King Lear. Ophelia is the fated heroine of Hamlet. Bianca is the mistress of Cassio in Othello. Cressida is from Troilus and Cressida. Desdemona is the heroine of Othello. Juliet was a star-crossed lover in Romeo and Juliet. Portia dispensed justice in The Merchant of Venice. Rosalind is the heroine of As You Like It. Puck was originally a malicious spirit but in A Midsummer Night's Dream he was identified with Hobgoblin or Robin Goodfellow. Miranda was the heroine of The Tempest. Ariel is the airy spirit in The Tempest who employs magic and sings 'Full Fathom Five. In A Midsummer Night's Dream Titania and Oberon are Queen and King of the Fairies.

Astrology

The allusion to fairies suggests the innocent intuitiveness purported by Uranus. The moons contain the implication that all of us bear the ability to perform magic and intuitive functions if we can tap the innocence with which we were born.

Last updated 29 November 2003