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Why does Uranus rotate on its side?

Uranus was first discovered by Sir William Herschel on 13th March 1781 and it was the first planet discovered since the Ancient Romans. It is the nearest planet you can't see with the aid of a telescope.

All the planets with the exception of Uranus rotate up right with north pointing straight up. Uranus's poles are on the sides and it rotates on its sides. No one knows exactly why as it happened thousands/millions or even billions of years ago.

The most likely reason is that during some time in its past, it was involved in a collision with another object which caused it to "fall over". Unlike a person who when they are knocked over gets up and carries on, Uranus didn't spring back.

Uranus is a gas planet but it is believed that it does have a core of some sort. The only observations and measurements that we have done on the planet has been when the Voyager 2 space probe encountered it on January 24th 1986. Since then, we've not been back. The New Horizons probe didn't pass by it because its journey never took it in the same direction as the planet.

A mission to Uranus could possibly take off in 2034 but if it missed that deadline, it would be a while before another opportunity was to present itself. New Scientist


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