If this is how you picture walking on Uranus, you’re wrong.
Chase: Totally wrong.
Are you ready to take a trip to the outer regions of the Solar System? To explore the weirdest planet in our cosmic neighborhood? To venture down into a place that’s never been studied up close by any spacecraft?
Buckle up for an icy, violent and stinky adventure because your mission is to spend 5 seconds on Uranus. And come back. If you can.
Traveling to Uranus would be a long, strange journey. First, you’d have to spend ten long years in a spaceship, speeding toward the outskirts of the Solar System. If you’re lucky you might even pass Jupiter and Saturn on the way. Just make sure you pack enough food and fuel. 10,000 microwavable meals should be enough to get you through a one-way voyage to this distant planet.
Chase: And the journey back? Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about it. Right. Well, there are some things you should know about this world. Uranus isn’t a rocky planet like Earth. It’s an ice giant like Neptune. And, it’s the only planet in the entire Solar System that spins on its side. It spins fast, too. One day on Uranus is just 17 Earth hours. Of course, you wouldn’t last that long on it. Not a chance.
Once you arrived at your destination, you’d still have some work to do to get close to this giant blue planet. You might have to dodge Uranian rings. Yes, Uranus has rings, 13 of them. They aren’t big and majestic like the gorgeous rings of Saturn. The outer rings are bright and easy to spot, but the inner rings are narrow and dark. You’d have to navigate this part of the trip with the utmost care.
As you made your way through the dusty rings of Uranus, you’d see its glorious blue atmosphere up close for the first time in human history. Take a moment to enjoy the view… while you can.
Chase: Ah, Uranus. What an oddballs planet. You know I flew by it a month ago? Yeah, that was fun.
Chase: You know why nobody, and I repeat, NOBODY, has ever attempted to land anything on this bootyful surface? Because Uranus has no surface.
Chase: It’s just a swirling ball of compressed toxic gases wrapped around a small icy core. Oh, and wait until I tell you why those gases on Uranus are toxic.
OK, thanks for your input, Chase. It’s true. Uranus might have a calming blue color, but it’s cold and toxic. Not the kind of blue planet you want to visit.
Chase: That’s OK. I think you should sit this one out. Here I gooooooo.
Chase: Ahhh, it’s brisk here! RICO, what’s the temperature?
RICO: -224 °C (-371 °F).
Chase: Ouch, that’s cold. That explains why I can’t feel my fingers. Or my toes. Or the rest of my body.
Chase: OK, at least the five seconds are up and it’s time to go home. Let’s bounce, RICO.
RICO: Impossible. If my calculations are correct, you will reach the icy core in 54.4 minutes.
Chase: So what? That wasn’t the plan! And whats .4 of a minute?!
RICO: I suggest you take this opportunity to study the planet up close and report back.
Chase: I suggest you take the opportunity and stuff it up your charging port.
RICO: I don’t have a charging port.
Chase: No one cares, RICO! No one cares!
Chase: Honestly, this sucks. Uranus smells like shit.
Yeah. The reason Uranus smells so bad is that the clouds in its upper atmosphere are partially made up of hydrogen sulfide. Not only does this compound make the planet stink, but it’s also pretty toxic. Whatever you do, do not inhale it. If you did, it would make you faint and die instantly.
Chase: What? Would have been great to know this before I jumped! What if someone was a team player? After falling through the stinky clouds at the top atmosphere, you’d find yourself in the mix of 82% hydrogen, 15% helium, and a bit of methane. Methane gas is what gives Uranus that bluish-green haze because it absorbs light at the red end of the spectrum.
Chase: These clouds are getting a little weird. Kinda floaty. Now, the atmosphere on Uranus is very dense. After passing through its top layer, you’d stop falling and start swimming in it instead.
As you were paddling deeper, you’d start getting pelted by frozen gas crystals.
Chase: Ouch! But at least the temperature would be rising.
Chase: I don’t know about that. I don’t feel warm at all. RICO, give me the stats.
RICO: The temperature around you has indeed gone up to -208 °C (-342 °F). My calculations show you can expect -153 °C (-243 °F) in the lower atmosphere.
Chase: Cool. Great.
Chase: Ouch! What is that?
That’s diamond rain. Yeah, on Uranus, it rains diamonds. That’s because the Uranian atmosphere is rich in methane, a single carbon compound. Under extreme pressure, the methane molecules break apart and crystalize into diamonds.
But the worst part is the wind. You’d be dealing with winds gusting at speeds of up to 900 km/h (560 mi/h). That’s 3.5 times stronger than a category 5 hurricane here on Earth.
Chase: RICO, it’s getting tight in here. I can hardly breathe. And when I do breathe, it smells like ass.
RICO: Of course. The pressure is 100 times greater than the atmospheric pressure at Earth’s sea level. You are approaching the mantle.
The good news is, you wouldn’t splatter on anything because there’s not much in the way of solids on Uranus. The Uranian mantle is made of water, ammonia, and methane ice. It would be pitch-black in here. Thanks to the extreme gravity, you wouldn’t be able to move a muscle. And it would still be incredibly cold. What you should be worried about is the immense pressure that would be rapidly increasing closer to the planet’s center. It would squish you before you could ever get to the core.
Chase: Being crushed by Uranus. I always thought it would be way nicer. In this extreme pressure environment, your carbon-based body could turn into diamonds and drop down to the core. What a spectacular way to finish this one-way trip to the center of Uranus. Chase? Um, right.
Our Solar System is enormous. There are so many planets and moons that are a lot more hospitable for a 5-second mission than Uranus. Where should you go next? How about a place covered in methane lakes and with a fantastic view of Saturn in the sky?