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Thursday, October 15, 1998 Published at 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK


Uranus as it has never been seen before

Uranus - clouds, rings and moons.

By our science editor David Whitehouse

Crowning a week of stunning images of the planets taken by the Hubble Space Telescope comes Uranus as it has never been seen before.

You may be forgiven in mistaking it for Saturn, the ringed planet. The less spectacular rings of Uranus have been known about since 1977 but they have never been shown so clearly.

Also visible are some of Uranus' 17 known moons as well as numerous bright clouds in its atmosphere.

This image will change the view of many astronomers that Uranus is an uninteresting planet.

New false-colour images of it show more clouds in its atmosphere than have ever been seen before.

The orange-coloured clouds form a circle of latitude around the planet. It seems that a cloud's colour depends upon its height in the atmosphere.

Green and blue regions show where the atmosphere is clear and where sunlight can penetrate deep into the planet.

The rings have never been seen so clearly. Made of boulder-sized chunks of rock and possibly ice. They usually appear dark.

Uranus was discovered in 1781 by the astronomer William Herschel, it has 15 times the mass of our Earth and fifty times its volume.

It has only been visited once, by the Voyager spacecraft in 1986.

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