The First Man To Spot Uranus Named It 'George'

The First Man To Spot Uranus Named It 'George'

We asked readers what thing up in space deserves more love. People named all kinds of stuff you might like to read up on, from Ea H.'s Boötes void (an area of space without any galaxies), to Brad H.'s Hanny's Voorwerp (a "quasar ionization echo" discovered and named after a teacher), to Michael K.'s TON 618 (a quasar with a black hole the size of 66 billion Suns). 

And yet readers picked one answer more often than any other. Rhiannon C., Thom K., Charlyn D., Tedric H., and many more readers all answered "Uranus." Few elaborated on why they're so interested in Uranus, and we have no idea why so many of these replies prompted laughing emojis. 

Nick S. says that he prefers a different name for the planet: George, after King George. It's true—William Herschel is credited with discovering Uranus in 1781, and he wanted to break from the pattern of naming planets after gods. He pointed out that the first planets, which are visible with the naked eye, were named thousands of years ago. We live in a different age now, so there's no reason to keep naming after a mythology no one even believes in anymore.

Fair enough. But not too many people worldwide liked his idea of naming the planet "Georgium Sidus" ("George's star," or "George's planet"). On one hand, Herschel argued that this name would let everyone know when it was discovered, but on the other, George was the king of England, a country that much of the world disliked and that some of the world had revolted against.

Many astronomers instead took to calling the planet "Herschel," which Herschel never asked for. "Neptune" was another popular choice, or even "Neptune King George" as a compromise. It wasn't until the eighth planet was discovered almost 70 years later, and got the name Neptune, that people decided to fix a formal name for the seventh planet: Uranus. It was kind of an odd choice. The other planets were named for Roman gods, but this one is the Greek "Uranus" rather than the Roman equivalent "Caelus." People were just really keen to pick Uranus, for some unclear reason. 

Herschel was dead by this time. While alive, he'd benefited greatly from choosing "George" as the planet's name. King George rewarded him by moving him to a special observatory in Slough close to London and guaranteeing him regular money for the rest of his life. That observatory had the world's largest telescope, but it was eventually demolished in the 1960s. Opposite the site, there's now a sex shop, which surely offers no ways whatever of bringing people closer to Uranus. 

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To look more at Uranus, check out:

Uranus Is Secretly Amazing (So Knock Off The Fart Jokes)

A Musician Discovered the Planet Uranus

5 Awesome Planets We Used to Think Were in Our Solar System

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see. 

Top image: NASA, Allan Ramsay

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