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4:30pm on Sunday, 22nd November, 2009:

Georgium Sidus


I read in a pull-out in the paper today that William Herschel, discoverer of the planet Uranus, originally named it after his £200-a-year sponsor, George III. I knew this already, but I never knew what it was he actually called it. Wikipedia tells me it was "Georgium Sidus", which is Latin for "George's Star", so let's go with that.

OK, well I can immediately see a problem with this name, in that Uranus is a planet, not a star. Its downfall, though, was the fact that no-one outside Britain really wanted a major heavenly body named after a British monarch. Uranus was suggested by the German astronomer, Johann Bode, because in the Romanisation of the original Greek mythology, Uranus was the father of Saturn, who was father of Jupiter, who was the father of Mars. Given that they didn't know there was another planet beyond Uranus at the time, that's actually pretty clever, so it's understandable that astronomers went with Uranus rather than Georgium Sidus.

What's interesting about this, though, it that Herschel did sort of get his way. He wasn't actually British by birth, but Hanoverian (at the time, George III was King of Britain, King of Ireland and Prince-Elector of Hanover). This meant he had a German accent, which in turn would mean it was entirely possible that the way he pronounced "Uranus" it sounded like he was saying "your Highness".

I'm sure there's a possible MA in History buried in that somewhere...

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Copyright © 2009 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).