Sciency Words: Uranus (An A to Z Challenge Post)

Today’s post is a special A to Z Challenge edition of Sciency Words, an ongoing series here on Planet Pailly where we take a look at some interesting science or science related term so we can all expand our scientific vocabularies together. In today’s post, U is for:


I feel really sorry for the planet Uranus.

I’m really sorry, sideways buddy, but they’re not laughing with you. They’re laughing at you.

Rumor has it NASA wants to send a space probe to Uranus in the late 2020’s or early 2030’s. It’ll be the first time we’ve visited an ice giant since the Voyager 2 flybys of Uranus and Neptune, back in the 1980’s. I’m pretty excited about this, but I can’t talk about a Uranus mission without people starting to snicker at me.

So how did the seventh planet of the Solar System end up with such an unfortunate name? Here’s a quick rundown of how this happened:

  • On March 13, 1781, English astronomer William Herschel discovered a new planet beyond the orbit of Saturn.
  • As a good, patriotic Englishman, Herschal named the new planet Georgium Sidis, Latin for “George’s Star,” in honor of King George III (the same King George mentioned in the Declaration of Independence).
  • For obvious reasons, the name Georgium Sidis wasn’t popular outside of England. Several alternatives were proposed, including Herschel, Neptune, and Uranus.
  • Uranus went on to become the most widely used name around the world, until in the mid-1800’s even England officially accepted the name.

In ancient mythology, Uranus was the god of the sky, the father of Saturn and the grandfather of Zeus. He was an extremely important deity, so it made a certain sense to bestow this prestigious name on such a prestigious discovery: the first new planet discovered since ancient times.

German astronomer Johann Elert Bode proposed the name. As a German, he presumably didn’t realize how it would sound in English—or maybe he did know and was deliberately trolling King George! That’s my personal theory.

Whatever Bode’s intentions were, Uranus is now stuck with its name and all the jokes that come with it. Which is a shame. Such a strange and mysterious planet deserves better.

Next time on Sciency Words: A to Z, we’ll be working with volatile chemicals.

18 thoughts on “Sciency Words: Uranus (An A to Z Challenge Post)

  1. Sometime in the 1980s when the Voyage 2 flyby was happening, the popular pronunciation shifted from “your-anus” to “urine-us,” both of which are giggle-worthly. Perhaps we can say it “Ur-a-nooz” instead?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I usually say “urine-us,” but you’re right, that’s not much better. I’d really like to go with the original Greek pronunciation of “O-rah-nos,” but then nobody knows what I’m talking about.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I defiantly try to stick with the “your-anus” pronunciation, although I have to admit if people start the conversation with “urine-us” I usually end up going along. My response to someone who snickers at either is, “Go ahead, get it out of your system,” pun completely intended.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I once wrote a story about a group of scientists that needed to travel to an ice giant for story reason, and they ended up going to Neptune because they couldn’t stop snickering about visiting “your anus”. Sorry, Uranus. *hangs head in shame*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I desperately want to use Uranus and it’s moons as a setting for a story, but I feel like I can’t. I have to go to Neptune instead. It’s a shame because the Uranian moons have such lovely names.


  4. Oh, Uranus. It’s really to bad about its name. It’s such a facinating place. I usually say “your anus,” and welcome the jokes. It’s better to just put it out there. Hm. Maybe that’s not the best choice of words.

    Liked by 1 person

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