The best planet in our solar system is not, as Adrienne LaFrance claimed several months ago, Jupiter. Nor is it Saturn, as Ross Andersen argued in a rebuttal last month. I teach science for a living, which means I have a hard time allowing misinformation to pass by uncorrected—and after reading those articles, I knew I had to step in before any more intellectual damage was done.
The best planet is Uranus—Uranus the bizarre. Uranus the unique. Saturn may be flashy and pretty, and Jupiter may be huge and dramatic, but they can’t hold a candle to Uranus’s intrigue. While all the other planets spin like tops around the sun, Uranus lies on its side. It isn’t the farthest planet from the sun, yet it manages to be the coldest. Its magnetic field is nowhere near where it’s supposed to be, and its ghoulish blue-green atmosphere seems to alternate between dull stagnation and fits of activity.
Even its name is unusual. Uranus is the only planet with a name derived from a Greek deity, rather than a Roman one. Correctly pronounced “YOOR-uh-nus,” it’s an homage to the Greek god Ouranos, Father Sky—who, it bears noting, is the father of Cronus (Saturn), and the grandfather of Zeus (Jupiter).
In fact, Uranus has been breaking the mold as long as we’ve known about it. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are all easily visible to the naked eye; humans have been gazing at those planets for millennia, but Uranus was the first planet discovered by modern astronomy. It’s so far away, and its movement so slow, that it was originally thought to be a star until Sir William Herschel revealed its planetary nature in 1781. Less than a decade later, it received a namesake chemical element: uranium, discovered in 1789. (Meanwhile, Neptune and Pluto didn’t make it into the periodic table for another 150 years.)