Good news everybody, at the start of next week, the world is going to have an excellent view of Uranus (grow up) as it makes its closest approach to Earth this year.
On November 13, people will be able to get the best look at Uranus as it reaches opposition 2.78 billion kilometers (1.74 billion miles) from our planet. While that sounds far, Uranus is wide. Four times wider than Earth, in fact, and with a small amateur telescope or even binoculars, the ice giant should be visible at its closest approach. Larger telescopes should also be able to view it on other nights during the week. With the right equipment, you may even glimpse its rings.
Billions of years ago, the view of Uranus from Earth would have been even more spectacular. The planet likely formed around 4.5 billion years ago, as gravity caused dust and gas to clump together into the swirling collection of mostly fluids. In their current positions, as far out as they are, Uranus and its fellow ice giant Neptune would not have been able to pick up enough material to form.
Simulations suggest that the planets formed much closer to the Sun (where the materials were available), before slowly making their way outwards to their current positions. As they did so, they likely sent objects flying in all directions as they passed through the Kuiper belt. It's possible that other ice giants formed during this time and left the solar system entirely, or are out there lurking at the edge.
Uranus hasn't had an easy time since then, likely gaining its unusual tilt during a "colossal pounding" (ok, here it is us who needs to grow up) by a planet roughly twice as massive as Earth, around 4 billion years ago. What a sight that would have been.