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Word Art: Uranus [Astronomy Series]

This planet is, of course, the one that makes schoolboys snicker upon the mere mention of the name.  The symbol only makes it worse, I fear–all you’d need to do is add a pair of hands and you’d practically have a pictogram for goatse.



Stress on the first syllable, schwa on the vowel of the second. That will spare you much trouble, indeed.

There are no ancient words for it, as it was too dim in the sky and moved too slowly for astronomers to take notice.

It is the only planet to have been named for the Greek god rather than the Roman version, albeit a Latinized version of the name.

It seemed a logical progression–as Mars was fathered by Jupiter and Jupiter in turn fathered by Saturn, so it made some kind of sense to name the planet that followed after Saturn’s father (even though, technically the progenitor of Saturn in the Roman pantheon was Caelus.)

Sir William Herschel, the man who peered at it long and hard enough to determine it was in fact a planet and not a star, actually wanted to have the planet named after King George III, but the name never stuck and was rarely used beyond the shores of Britain.

Herschel at first took the celestial object in question to be a comet, but when others looked in the same spot in the sky, they concluded that it was instead a new planet.

(Or, at least, new to them–it had been planeting about for millions of years before, of course.)

The first of the moons were found a few years later, again by Herschel.

He claimed to have seen six of them, but only two of them where he saw them were able to be found by others, the first two.

Another two moons were found by one William Lassell and it fell upon Herschel’s son, John, to give them names.

He settled upon the names Titania and Oberon for the ones his father was responsible for finding and the names Ariel and Umbriel for the Lassell discoveries.

All subsequent discoveries since then have names derived from the works of Shakespeare and Pope.

There are also rings around the planet.

It may be that they were first seen, again, by Herschel proudly looking at the planet he discovered, but nobody was able to see them with certainty until nearly two centuries later.

They were not even looking for them–they wanted data to learn more about the atmosphere and they took advantage of a star that Uranus was to be occulting to look more closely.

They saw that the star ended up obscured a few times before and after the actual passing of the planet over the star, and realized that there must be rings around the planet.

The rings are made of a dark and undetermined (as of now) material.

The best guess is that they are ground up moons.

The axial tilt of the planet is peculiar, in that it effectively ‘rolls’ rather than spins.

The axial tilt is 97.77 degrees. The magnetosphere is similarly warped, as the field of magnetism doesn’t line up with the axis, as other planets do.

This results in an asymmetric sort (if you will) of magnetosphere.

(This may be because of the icy structure of the planet, as Neptune has a similar strangeness.)

The only close examinations of the planet has [sic] been from the Voyager 2 spacecraft, which is how we even know of the magnetic field in the first place.

Voyager 2 also came across ten previously unseen moons, and made close examination of the moon called Miranda, which may, judging by the crazed terrain have been a moon that was once shattered and subsequently reassembled from its fragments.

There are no plans in the immediate future to further probe the planet Uranus.

Yes, you’re absolutely right, I didn’t have to go there, but understand that this was after I’d just finished Jupiter and Saturn in a mad dash to finish the planets by the end of Thursday and I was eager to finish it so I could move on to Neptune and be done with it.  So I went for the dumb joke.  Sorry about that.

Prints of this work are available here.

The original is not for sale.

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