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Who Discovered Uranus (and How Do You Pronounce It)?

Did you ever meet a person and wonder what their parents were thinking when they picked out their child's name? Many people may do the same when they are required to give a presentation on the seventh planet in the solar system. But just how do you pronounce the name of the smallest gas giant?

How did Uranus get its name?

The first six planets in the solar system have been visible to observers throughout human history and were named for Roman gods. But because it orbits so far from the sun, Uranus was not visible with the naked eye.

Herschel
Astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus.
Credit: Smithsonian Institution

Sir William Herschel found the seventh planet on March 13, 1781, while scouring the night sky for comets; he initially thought he'd discovered another icy body. When it came time to propose a moniker, he suggested naming it for his patron, King George III, which would have made it Georgium Sidus, or George's Star. But the name was not widely appreciated outside of England. "Herschel," after its discoverer, was also suggested, as was "Neptune."

Ultimately, German astronomer Johann Elert Bode named the planet after an ancient Greek god of the sky. Bode argued that as Saturn was the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be named for the father of Saturn. (Uranus is also the only planet to be named after a Greek god rather than a Roman one.) Bode's colleague, Martin Klaproth, supported his choice and named his newly discovered element "uranium."

Can you pronounce Uranus (without snickering)?

Most people are taught that the name of the tilted planet sounds like "your-anus," a pronunciation sure to elicit snickers. It seems particularly humorous when you discuss the methane composition of Uranus, or you want to talk about how hot Uranus is. (You know you smiled a little.)

According to NASA, most scientists say YOOR-un-us. Unfortunately, because it is so rarely heard outside the walls of academia, it almost seems to call even more attention to the avoided pronunciation.

— Nola Taylor Redd, SPACE.com Contributor

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