A look at the solar system’s most distant worlds — Uranus, a gas giant with the most extreme axial tilt of any known planet and its wildly orbiting moon Triton; its near-twin Neptune and its moons; and finally, distant Pluto which orbits the sun every 248 years.
Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun. It has the third-largest planetary radius and fourth-largest planetary mass in the Solar System. Uranus is similar in composition to Neptune, and both are of different chemical composition than the larger gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. For this reason, astronomers sometimes place them in a separate category called ”ice giants”. Uranus’s atmosphere, although similar to Jupiter’s and Saturn’s in its primary composition of hydrogen and helium, contains more ”ices” such as water, ammonia, and methane, along with traces of hydrocarbons. It is the coldest planetary atmosphere in the Solar System, with a minimum temperature of 49 K (−224 °C). It has a complex, layered cloud structure, with water thought to make up the lowest clouds, and methane thought to make up the uppermost layer of clouds. In contrast, the interior of Uranus is mainly composed of ices and rock.
It is the only planet whose name is derived from a figure from Greek mythology rather than Roman mythology like the other planets, from the Latinized version of the Greek god of the sky, Ouranos.
Triton is the largest moon of the planet Neptune, discovered on October 10, 1846, by English astronomer William Lassell. It is the only large moon in the Solar System with a retrograde orbit, which is an orbit in the opposite direction to its planet’s rotation. At 2,700 km in diameter, it is the seventh-largest moon in the Solar System. Because of its retrograde orbit and composition similar to Pluto’s, Triton is thought to have been captured from the Kuiper belt. Triton has a surface of mostly frozen nitrogen, a mostly water ice crust, an icy mantle and a substantial core of rock and metal. The core makes up two-thirds of its total mass. Triton has a mean density of 2.061 grams per cubic centimetre (0.0745 lb/cu in) and is composed of approximately 15–35% water ice.
Neptune is the eighth and farthest planet from the Sun in the Solar System. It is the fourth-largest planet by diameter and the third-largest by mass. Among the gaseous planets in the solar system, Neptune is the most dense. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth and is slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus, which is 15 times the mass of Earth but not as dense.[c] On average, Neptune orbits the Sun at a distance of 30.1 AU, approximately 30 times the Earth–Sun distance. Named for the Roman god of the sea, its astronomical symbol is ♆, a stylised version of the god Neptune’s trident.
Neptune was the first planet found by mathematical prediction rather than by empirical observation. Unexpected changes in the orbit of Uranus led Alexis Bouvard to deduce that its orbit was subject to gravitational perturbation by an unknown planet. Neptune was subsequently observed on 23 September 1846 by Johann Galle within a degree of the position predicted by Urbain Le Verrier, and its largest moon, Triton, was discovered shortly thereafter, though none of the planet’s remaining 12 moons were located telescopically until the 20th century. Neptune has been visited by only one spacecraft, Voyager 2, which flew by the planet on 25 August 1989.
Pluto, formal designation 134340 Pluto, is the second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System (after Eris) and the tenth-most-massive body observed directly orbiting the Sun.[i] Originally classified as the ninth planet from the Sun, Pluto was recategorized as a dwarf planet and plutoid owing to the discovery that it is only one of several large bodies within the Kuiper belt.[j]
Like other members of the Kuiper belt, Pluto is composed primarily of rock and ice and is relatively small, approximately one-sixth the mass of the Earth’s Moon and one-third its volume. It has an eccentric and highly inclined orbit that takes it from 30 to 49 AU (4.4–7.4 billion km) from the Sun. This causes Pluto to periodically come closer to the Sun than Neptune. As of 2011, it is 32.1 AU from the Sun