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Not all of the objects in the solar system are named after Greek and Roman gods -- some are named after literary figures, movie stars, and don’t get us started on what people think Earth is really called.

Hosted by: Reid Reimers

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I don't know if you've been round the solar system much, but have you noticed that most places around here sound like they're straight out of Xena Warrior Princess or the God of War games? Even if you've never left Earth, you probably know that most of the planets, their satellites and a lot of other stuff that's orbiting the Sun are named after Greek and Roman deities. That's just because most of the planets were observed for centuries by ancient sky watchers. And for reasons that have to do with history and religion rather than science, the gods they named them after became the monikers that we use today. And then modern astronomers, as they observe new bodies, kept the tradition alive. But the fact is, not all of the names of our solar system are from some ancient Pantheon. That's partly thanks to the International Astronomical Union which determines the official names of celestial objects. 

And, psh, I gotta hand it to 'em, because they've allowed some of the weird names that were decided long ago to stay weird and as we keep discovering new stuff, well, let's just say that even astronomers have a sense of humor. 

For example, take a look at Uranus! You heard me, Uranus! That's how I pronounce it! There is no official pronunciation for that or any planet. But, in any case, I wanna talk about its moons. The astronomer who discovered Uranus, William Herschel, originally wanted to name it after King George the Third. But, it was shouted down by his colleagues, and it was named after the Greek god of the sky, Ouranos. But decades later, Herschel's son got dibs on naming the planet's moons, and he decided to give them names from his favorite works of literature.

So, he named two of them Oberon and Titania, from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the other two Ariel and Umbriel, from Alexander Pope's poem The Rape of the Lock

Herschel created this odd, literary tradition more than 160 years ago. And ever since, when new objects have been discovered around Uranus, now at 27 and counting, astronomers have named them after people in Pope's poem, or Shakespeare's plays. Still, not all heavenly bodies sound so classy. Out of the asteroid belt, there are rocks hurtling around with whatever names popped into astronomers' heads.

In 1902 for instance, a prolific German discoverer of asteroids, Max Wolf, named two newly identified space rocks Petrina and Seppina after his pet dogs. In 1916, a Russian observer named his asteroid after the resort town in Ukraine where he liked to hang out - Gaspra. As time went on and even more objects were found, well, things just got kooky. 

In 1971, an asteroid was given perhaps the solar system's most awesome moniker - Mister Spock. But technically it wasn't named after every one's favorite Vulcan, it was named after the astronomer's cat. Since then, pop culture has found an easy foothold in the asteroid belt. Space rocks discovered in the last fifty years have names that include James Bond, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Mister Rogers, and Monty Python. 

So, clearly the asteroid belt is the solar system's fun zone, but in other parts there are still rules. When it comes to dwarf planets like Pluto, Ceres and Vesta, the International Astronomical Union stipulates that they still be named after mythological figures. So no pets allowed!

Any dwarf planets found beyond Neptune should specifically be named for deities related to creation. But to keep things interesting, back in 2000, the IAU began allowing names from mythologies around the world, not just Greece and Rome. So in 2003 when a new dwarf planet was discovered beyond Pluto, it was given the name Haumea after the Hawaiian goddess of birth and fertility. And in 2005, another dwarf was named Makemake, the creator god of the Rapa Nui of Easter Island. 

But no discussion of names in the solar system would be complete without mentioning bodies that don't have names. You're sitting on one! Earth has no official scientific name. Not Terra or Gaia or anything else you've heard in science fiction. Instead, these bodies are simply called... whatever you call them in the language that you speak. So in English, the IAU says that you live on Earth which has a Moon and orbits the Sun. Each of which is capitalized by the way. But in Thailand, you live on Lok, which is orbited by Chandra, and the ball of fire in the sky is Surya. In Arabic, your home world is El-Ard, whose satellite is Qamar, and our star is called Shams. So while it's still plenty of fun to talk about Uranus, or how men are from Mars or whatever, it turns out that the solar system is more funny, diverse and wonderful than our textbooks make it sound.

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