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Uranus strikes a pose for Hubble's camera

Edge on view of the rings

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Hubble has snapped a gorgeous shot of the rings of Uranus*.

I can see rings around Uranus. Credit: NASA/Hubble

I can see rings around Uranus. Credit: NASA/Hubble

The picture is extremely rare because the rings happen to be tilted perfectly edge on to Earth, an alignment that happens just twice every 894 years as the planet orbits the sun.

NASA points out that the last time the rings were aligned like this, no one actually knew the planet's rings existed.

The picture, taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, shows what appear to be spikes emanating from the planet's poles. These are the edges of Uranus' 13 rings, and they are actually poking out from its equator.

The planet is a bit of an oddball because it is orbiting the Sun on its side, with its axis almost parallel to the path it takes around our star.

Uranus is the second farthest official planet from the sun (apologies to any residual Pluto fans). It was confirmed as a planet by William Herschel back in 1781, although the earliest recorded sighting was in 1690, when astronomer John Flamsteed catalogued it as a star.

The planet appears blue because of the large quantity of methane** in its upper atmosphere, which preferentially absorbs red light. ®

*Stop sniggering at the back.

**We'll not say it again.

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