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What is this weird stuff all over Uranus?

Mike Wehner

Each of the planets in the Solar System has a unique personality. Earth is a bustling hub of weird life forms, Jupiter is a massive ball of gas with storms that could swallow other planets whole, and Uranus, well, Uranus is just plain weird. It’s a big frozen ball that spins on its side, totally unlike any other planet in our neighborhood.

In a new photo snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope, Uranus looks even more peculiar than it normally does. The frosty planet can be seen with a massive white cap dominating its northern pole, and as NASA explains in a new blog post its strange appearance is actually owed to its bizarre orientation.

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Nobody knows for sure why Uranus spins on its side but the best guess from the scientific community is that it was struck by some massive object a long time ago. That glancing blow was enough to cause the then-young planet to begin rotating on its side rather than spinning like a top, as the other planets in our system do.

But how does this explain the massive frosty dome now visible on the planet? NASA says that the planet’s rotation forces its north pole to face the Sun for an extended period of time during the planet’s summer season. That constant sunlight may be affecting the planet’s atmosphere, forming what NASA calls a “polar hood,” which we see as a mass of frosty white clouds.

NASA also points out the smaller white blob just at the edge of the blue region, which it says is likely a thick cloud of methane-ice.

Because of the distance at which Uranus orbits the Sun, the planet’s years are a lot different than we experience here on Earth. In fact, while it takes exactly one Earth year for our planet to find its way around the Sun, Uranus takes 84 times as long to complete one trip.

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See the original version of this article on BGR.com