Uranus is the 7th planet in the Solar System, and the first planet discovered beyond the 5 planets that are visible with the unaided eye. So, who discovered Uranus? The discoverer was Sir William Herschel, who found it on March 13, 1781.
Even though Uranus is dim, it’s actually possible to see with the unaided eye in very dark, clear skies. But even so, nobody had ever officially recorded the movement of Uranus, so Herschel is the discoverer. He first recorded the discovery of a faint object that might be a nebulous star or maybe a comet. In fact, he even presented it as a comet to the Royal Society, and was surprised to find out from the Astronomer Royal that it had no tail and moved in a planet-like orbit around the Sun.
King George III of England was so impressed with the discovery that he gave Herschel an annual stipend of 200 pounds. Herschel originally wanted to name Uranus “George’s Star” after his king, but the international astronomy community pressed for Uranus instead, following the convention of naming planets after Roman gods.
Better telescopes were able to resolve better details of Uranus and its moons, but it wasn’t until 1986 when the first spacecraft from Earth finally arrived at Uranus. NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew within 81,500 km of the cloud tops of Uranus, and discovered 10 new moons and 2 new rings around the planet.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Uranus. Listen here, Episode 62: Uranus.