Exactly 240 years ago today, on March 13, 1781, the astronomer William Herschel peered into his telescope and saw Uranus. That makes this an especially important Uranus Day, a major milestone for the great gas giant, and the first planet to be identified in the modern era. Although ancient astronomers had occasionally seen Uranus—it’s almost sixteen times bigger than Earth, which makes Uranus really impressive—it’s still almost two billion miles away. That’s why Uranus can be really hard to see.
Uranus is a gas giant which is mainly composed of hydrogen but it also has helium, methane, and small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, which is why under the right circumstances Uranus would be highly flammable. It also contains ammonia and other compounds in ice form, so you’d never want to smell Uranus.
Since two billion miles is a long way to travel you can experience Uranus here on Earth by visiting Uranus, Missouri, a small town along historic Route 66, although I think they should rename the stretch that leads up to and through Uranus the Herschel Highway. The town of Uranus is known for its fudge factory and other attractions, including The Axehole, a place where you can work out your frustrations, and the Sideshow Museum, where you can take in some of Uranus’s magic.
Or if you’re looking for something even closer to home you can stream Journey To The Seventh Planet, a 1962 film about a trip to Uranus, on Amazon Prime, or, if you have a telescope, you can go out and try and find Uranus. It’s currently in the constellation Aries, which I guess means Uranus was born under the sign of the Ram.
Whatever you do, though, don’t overlook Uranus.