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Even in ancient times astronomers knew of 5 planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. But it wasn’t until the last few hundred years that the next planet was finally discovered – Uranus. So when was Uranus discovered? Uranus was found on March 13th, 1781 by Sir William Herschel of England.
You might be surprised to know that Uranus is actually bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye. But you need to have perfect vision, with totally dark skies, clear air; and you’ve got to know what you’re looking for. So it’s no surprise that astronomers didn’t turn up Uranus before 1781.
When he first discovered Uranus, Herschel didn’t realize exactly what he was looking at. He thought he might have found a nebular star or a new comet. When he presented his findings to the Royal Society, the Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne discovered that it actually had a planet like orbit and didn’t seem to posses a tail. It was the first new planet discovered in history.
Herschel originally wanted to name the new planet after King George III, and call it George’s star. But the international community of astronomers wanted to follow the tradition of naming planets after Roman gods. And so it was named Uranus, the father of Saturn and grandfather of Jupiter.
We’ve written many articles about the discovery of objects in the Solar System for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the discovery of Neptune, and here’s an article about the discovery of Pluto.
We have also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast just about Uranus. Listen here, Episode 62: Uranus.