The distance from the Sun to Uranus is around 1.8 billion miles (2.9 billion kilometers.) But that changes depending on where the planet is within its elliptical orbit.
Uranus reaches its closest proximity to the Sun at 1,699,800,000 miles (2,735,560,000 kilometers.) But at its furthest point in the orbit, Uranus travels 1,868,080,000 miles (3,006,390,000 kilometers) distant from the Sun.
The numbers for that great orbital distance are hard to wrap your head around, so we’ll try simplifying it. But first, a little background on the frigid world of Uranus.
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What Is Uranus?
Uranus is one of two ice giants in the far reaches of our own solar system (Neptune is the other one.) And even though the planet is the third largest, it has less mass than every world except Saturn.
About 80% of the freezing world consists of hot, swirling liquid methane, ammonia, and water. In addition, Uranus has a small rocky core that heats up to 9,000℉ (4,982℃) even while the planet’s average temperature is minus 320℉ (-195℃.)
If you flew an imaginary spacecraft to Uranus, you couldn’t land because there’s no solid surface, only swirling fluids. The ice giant’s atmosphere consists of a small amount of methane and large amounts of atomic helium and molecular hydrogen.
The methane gas gives Uranus its blue-green color. It happens when the sunlight goes through the atmosphere and gets reflected back out from the gas and dust clouds. The methane absorbs light’s red portions, leaving only the blue-green.
How Big Is Uranus?
Even though Earth is more dense than Uranus, the ice giant dwarfs our home planet by about four times. So if Earth were a nickel, Uranus would be the size of a softball.
Interestingly, the Earth is also four times the size of the Moon, so the illustration below shows the relative size of the space objects, even though they’re not the correct relative distance from one another.
How Far Is Uranus From the Sun?
Because of its elliptical orbit, the ice giant travels at varying distances from the Sun. But Uranus is an average of 1,783,744,300 miles (2,870,658,186 kilometers) from the Sun.
At the perihelion or closest point, Uranus is roughly 1,699,800,000 miles (2,735,560,000 kilometers) from the Sun. The aphelion or most distant point that Uranus travels away from the Sun is 1,868,080,000 miles (3,006,390,000 kilometers.)
In astronomical units (AU), one AU measures the average distance from the Sun to Earth (about 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers.) This unit of measurement gives scientists a simplified way to measure distances in space.
So, Uranus lies at 19.2 AU from the Sun on average. In addition, its aphelion is about 20.1 AU, and its perihelion is 18.4 AU.
Uranus’ Placement in the Solar System
The solar system partially maintains its long-term stability from the planets’ spacing and arrangements. Gravitational interactions between the Sun and its satellites help regulate the planet’s orbital motions. And that keeps the whole system stable.
On the other hand, if the distances between planets and the Sun differed significantly, it could lead to collisions and orbital instabilities.
How Does the Distance Between Uranus and the Sun Affect Climate?
The solar system’s inner planets primarily consist of rocky solids and non-volatile elements since they formed closer to the Sun’s heat. But the outer planets consist mainly of freezing ammonia and water.
With Earth’s warmer temperatures, those components become liquids or gases. But since the distance from Uranus to the Sun is so vast, on the ice giant ammonia and water freeze into carbon-enriched solid ice.
Several factors contribute to a planet’s weather.
- Axis tilt (causes seasons)
- Orbit shape around the Sun
- Whether or not the planet has a significant atmosphere
- How long the day is
- The average distance of the Sun to the planet
To better understand the climate of Uranus, let’s compare it to Earth. We have a relatively small axis tilt of about 23 degrees, creating the differences between summer and winter. In addition, Earth has a nearly circular orbit around the Sun, so the planet’s overall climate doesn’t vary too much.
But planets, like Uranus, with an elliptical orbit around the Sun, have very different seasonal variations compared to Earth. However, planets near the Sun generally have more pronounced weather variations than those far away. Even though Uranus is very different from Earth, it remains stable in the seasonal weather it experiences.
In addition to a more elliptical orbit than Earth’s, Uranus has a pretty extreme tilt on its axis at almost 98 degrees! And that creates 21-year-long summers and winters, even though it is always cold.
Because of the vast distance from the Sun to Uranus, sunlight takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach and shine on the ice giant, Uranus. So, no matter what season the planet experiences, its mean temperature stays at minus 320°F (-195°C.)
When Uranus’ northern or southern hemispheres come out of their long, dark winters, sunlight reaches some areas for the first time in 21 years. And that causes enormous springtime storms about the size of North America.
Then as the Sun shines over the planet’s equator, Uranus experiences more evenly distributed sunshine. So that’s when scientists try to see planet features across all latitudes.
Has the Distance From the Sun to Uranus Changed Over Time?
Uranus formed about 4.5 billion years ago, at the same time as the rest of the solar system. Scientists think it came together on the Carbon Monoxide (CO) ice line, where molecules freeze.
At the time of formation, the CO ice line likely resided closer to the Sun. So, about 4 billion years ago, Uranus and Neptune probably drifted to the outer solar system where we find them today.
How far is Uranus from the Sun Compared To Other Planets?
Uranus is so far out in the solar system that it takes 84 Earth years to orbit the Sun. Even though the distance from the Sun to Uranus changes because of its elliptical orbit, it is still super far out into space.
Here’s how far Uranus is from the Sun compared to the other planets.
|Approximate Distance to the Sun
Conclusion: Why Is the Distance Between Uranus and the Sun Important?
The distance between the Sun and Uranus (averaging 19.2 AU) affects the planet’s climate and composition. Scientists study the distance to help unravel the intricacies of gravity’s forces and how planets form and evolve within our solar system.
Uranus’ place among the planets, its distance from the Sun, and its tilt teach astronomers about its weather patterns and climate. Since lower solar radiation levels reach the icy world, it maintains incredibly frigid temperatures.