On January 24th, 1986, Voyager 2 swept past our system’s seventh planet, Uranus, on its way out of the solar system. It was the first and last time we visited the gas giant, and we found it’s one of the stranger locations in our solar system.
Throughout classical times, scholars recognised only six planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, each visible to the naked eye. It wasn’t until the advent of advanced telescopes that anyone realised that there could be additional worlds orbiting our sun.
While the planet is visible to the naked eye, and had been observed throughout history, it had been identified as a star. It wasn’t until March 13th, 1781 when William Hershel observed the planet and noted it down as a comet.
“The power I had on when I first saw the comet was 227. From experience I know that the diameters of the fixed stars are not proportionally magnified with higher powers, as planets are; therefore I now put the powers at 460 and 932, and found that the diameter of the comet increased in proportion to the power, as it ought to be, on the supposition of its not being a fixed star, while the diameters of the stars to which I compared it were not increased in the same ratio. Moreover, the comet being magnified much beyond what its light would admit of, appeared hazy and ill-defined with these great powers, while the stars preserved that lustre and distinctness which from many thousand observations I knew they would retain. The sequel has shown that my surmises were well-founded, this proving to be the Comet we have lately observed”.
It wasn’t until he brought his discovery to another astronomer, Nevil Maskelyne, that they realised that it wasn’t a comet: it orbited the sun like a planet. Additional observations from other astronomers helped confirm the discovery, and Hershel was given the honour of naming the planet. He bestowed it with ‘Georgium Sidus’, or George’s Star, in honour of his king. This, however, didn’t sit well with the wider European astronomical community, and in 1782, German astronomer