Uranus, the Magician

eccentric, strange and erratic … a nervously organised temperament, quite out of the common

This sounds more like a comic and bumbling wizard than a frightening one. The opening four notes are quite imposing and even sinister but the music soon turns into a jerky dance. At the end, it sounds like the wizard vanishes into thin air. Every other planet in the solar system spins more or less like a top while circling the sun but Uranus rolls sideways and appears somersault through space.

Planet facts:

  • Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun.
  • It is named after the Greek god of the sky.
  • It moves quite slowly and has a long way to travel, so each orbit of the sun lasts 84 years.
  • Uranus is a giant world, the third largest planet in our Solar System. 64 Earths would fit inside it.
  • Despite its size, it spins rapidly. A day on Uranus lasts only 17 hours 14 minutes.
  • Uranus spins like a top knocked over on its side. This means that the Sun is sometimes directly overhead at the poles. Each pole has a summer and a winter lasting 21 years, making them the hottest and coldest places on the planet.
  • The main gases in its thick atmosphere are hydrogen and helium, with a small amount of methane. The methane scatters blue light, which is why Uranus appears blue.
  • Uranus is mainly made of ‘ices’ – a mixture of water, methane and ammonia. At its centre there may be a small rocky core. This means that it is very lightweight for its size.
  • Uranus has 27 known moons. None of these are very big.
  • The largest satellites are Oberon and Titania, both more than 1,500 km in diameter.
  • Uranus also has at least a dozen dark, dusty rings.
  • Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have flown past Uranus.

Suggested classroom activities

Holst called Uranus ‘The Magician’. What sort of person makes a good magician and why do we enjoy being deceived so much? Nowadays, computer generated imagery can make anything happen in films and tv shows but it’s still impressive when an illusion is created live, before your very eyes. Can you learn some magic tricks to impress your friends?

There’s a thin line between being deceived by an illusion and being conned. The same techniques that magicians use can also be used by thieves to distract their victims while, for example, picking their pockets. How can you spot when you’re being conned and how can you avoid it?

Explore Holst's The Planets

Download the full resource pack for more explorations of planetary science, ideas for classroom activities, and links to external resources.