By Phil Plait | January 18, 2010 12:21 pm

My pal Amanda Bauer — aka Astropixie — has been posting a great series of short videos called Sixty Symbols, where scientists discuss the meanings of a given symbol in science, and the story behind them. In the latest, she tackles the pronunciation of the planet name Uranus — the name is Greek, so I think the title of this post is correct — but the video she made has lots of info on the planet, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

Related post (and to pre-empt any Futurama jokes):
Yes, yes, rings around Uranus, haha


Comments (50)

  1. Wayne Robinson

    I’m currently reading “the Age of Wonder” by Richard Holmes, a major part of which is about William Herschel, the discover of Uranus. So far, it’s a good book.

  2. Gus Snarp

    We have a book of the planets of the solar system that we read with my three year old. When we get to Uranus he says it’s “the one that makes mommy laugh!”

  3. I’m going to sit back and just let IVAN3MAN do the juvenile post for me! 😀 I just can’t search out the appropriate joke/image a thread that stabs this deep into my pre-pubescent juvenile humour requires!

  4. C Murdock

    The name is English. It may come FROM Greek, but so do tons of words that you don’t pronounce anything like they were originally. That’s because you’re not speaking Greek. You’re speaking English. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

    If anybody giggles when you say it as a paroxytone, that’s their problem, not yours.

  5. But in Greek, it is oxytone:
    So maybe any way of accenting it should be acceptable.

  6. TBRP

    [pedant] Of course if you’re going by the Greek pantheon, Chronos is the son of Uranus. Saturn would be the son of Caelus. [/pedant] (I almost misspelled pedant; yay irony!)

  7. Eric Howe

    All these videos can be found at the sixty symbols site:

    These are done by the same guy that did the periodic table videos (featuring the most awesome scientist hair ever):

    The corresponding YouTube channels have some good extras as well.

  8. Dave Regan

    From the Uranus article on Wikipedia:

    … as Dr. Pamela Gay, an astronomer at Southern Illinois University, noted on her podcast, to avoid “being made fun of by any small schoolchildren … when in doubt, don’t emphasise anything and just say ūr′·ə·nəs. And then run, quickly.”

  9. Utakata

    And every planet needs its hero…

    …sorry, couldn’t resist. :)

  10. boris

    That’s why they renamed it to Urectum. Can’t cause confusion by calling it Ooo-rectum, can you? :)

  11. Buzz Parsec

    Arghh! I’m getting Scott Brown pop-ups overlaid on the video. Yech.

  12. @ Jonathan Lubin:

    In ancient Greek, I believe, the word would be stressed on both the first and last syllable.

    Thus throwing the whole thing up oúranós.

    (And BTW, a big yiásou to a fellow Pasadenean.

  13. Levi in NY

    Uranus may have almost been named George, but mine actually is.

  14. StevoR

    Its ‘Ouranos” for sure in my book and I’m even a member of a facebook group advocating this :

    All the planets except one are named after Roman gods, and Ouranos is the one exception. Unfortunately it has become the brunt of joke after joke due to a Latinization of the original Greek name, Ouranos. We do not call Poseidon Posidon, so why make Ouranos the exception? Ouranos is a magnificent planet that has been subject to a bromidic and stale joke for far too long.

    Definitely! :-)

    @ 1. Wayne Robinson Says:

    I’m currently reading “the Age of Wonder” by Richard Holmes, a major part of which is about William Herschel, the discover of Uranus. So far, it’s a good book.

    I’d also recommend Tom Standage’s book The Neptune File – Planet Detectives and the Discovery of the Unseen (Allen Lane, 2000) as a great read that covers the discoveries of Ouranos, Neptune, Pluto, exoplanets and more.

  15. There was a report that came out a few days ago stating that Uranus may have oceans of diamonds. I think we should go there and get them. Think of the marketing campaign:

    “Give her a gift like no other. Give her a gift that lasts forever. Give her a diamond from Uranus.”

  16. i was going to say how it’s pronounced ‘ou ra NOSS’ in greece today but others beat me to it. i’m not in a position to say how the ancients would have pronounced it.

    today, the word means sky.

  18. T.E.L.

    According to Professor Farnsworth they changed the name of that planet to put an end to such juvenile jokes. It’s now called Urectum.

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    Actually, given the scientific tradition is that the oldest name gets priority and overrules others*; shouldn’t “the sideways planet” be called ’34 Tauri’ – the name Uranus was first labelled with by Flamstead when he charted it as a star? 😉

    Or, using the idea that the first person to discover an object for what it is (which would be Herschel eventually although he first thought it was a comet) gets to name it, then shouldn’t Uranus be (re)named Georium Sidus or in English the “Georgian Star” as Wilhelm Herschel (as he was then) wanted to call it?


    * Thus ‘apatosaurus’ instead of the arguably much better ‘brontosaurus’ for one popular sauropod dinosaur. See : :

    “Despite the much-publicized debut of the mounted skeleton, which cemented the name Brontosaurus in the public consciousness, Elmer Riggs had published a paper in the 1903 edition of Geological Series of the Field Columbian Museum which argued that Brontosaurus was not different enough from Apatosaurus to warrant its own genus, and created the combination Apatosaurus excelsus: “In view of these facts the two genera may be regarded as synonymous. As the term ‘Apatosaurus’ has priority, ‘Brontosaurus’ will be regarded as a synonym.” Despite this, at least one paleontologist—Robert Bakker—argued in the 1990s that A. ajax and A. excelsus are in fact sufficiently distinct that the latter continues to merit a separate genus. “

    & also Stephen Jay Gould’s book ‘Bully for Brontosuarus’ where he supports the Brontosaurus name. See :

  20. Messier Tidy Upper


    Ooops! Typo : … then shouldn’t Uranus be (re)named Georium Sidus or in English the “Georgian Star” as Wilhelm Herschel (as he was then) wanted to call it?

    Should be :

    then shouldn’t Uranus be (re)named Georgium Sidus or in English the “Georgian Star” as Wilhelm Herschel (as he was then) wanted to call it?

    Sorry. Although ‘Georium Sidus’ also has a good ring too it. Well, better than what it gets called now anyhow. 😉

  21. Uranus; the most improperly named planet, it could be pronounce “your anus” or “urine on us”.
    Poor Uranus, at least Cronus killed him before he could hear all the joke about his name.

  22. RDK

    If a large moon was involved with the weirdness of Uranus’ orbit, and also the proximity of the gas giants, would it be possible that the moon was Triton? I know that it has a weird, unclear history as well. It probably is not large enough, but it would be interesting if it were somehow involved.

  23. George

    I love Sixty Symbols, I’ve been a subscriber of that channel for a while now.

  24. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ Selina Morse – 11 in the other old “yes, yes, rings” thread.

    In what may well be a record for the “Most Belated Answer to a Question in the Comments” category, I’ve finally answered your question there from 2007! 😉

    Hope you get to see it & hope you & others find it interesting. :-)

  25. Messier Tidy Upper

    BA – I loved your old post linked here too & the comments about the name of Ouranos there :

    Poor Uranus. Besides having a name guaranteed to make 12-year-old-boys giggle*, to most people it lacks any sort of interest. … Uranus has been the butt of jokes for years (yes, I know, haha, spare me please) but in fact it’s a pretty cool place and worthy of a closer look… at least once every 42 years.

    *The only time that I laughed at a Uranus joke (well, besides a few MST3K episodes) was in Futurama, when the professor invented a telescope that allows you to smell astronomical objects (called a smelloscope, natch) [etc ..]

    I don’t find the many lame and juvenile jokes about Ouranos’es name funny – more just pathetic but that Futurama one did make me laugh too – at least the first time I heard it. It has since grown very stale from over-exposure via being quoted too many times. :-(

    That 7th planet (counting from our Sun outwards) deserves a better name – I know it shouldn’t matter what it is called, but it does & I for one intend to keep trying to get the English version of it shifted to ‘Ouranos’ instead. I’d like to see that happen, I really would & if the IAU can change the status of Pluto then surely they can do something positive and change the name of the planet formerly known as ‘George’ to something less embarrassingly cringe-worthy! 😉

    The BA from the linked thread again :

    Poor Uranus. Besides having a name guaranteed to make 12-year-old-boys giggle*, to most people it lacks any sort of interest. It isn’t huge, like Jupiter, or bright, like Venus, or shine with a striking red color, like Mars. It doesn’t have giant glorious rings like Saturn… but it does have rings, and sometimes they can be pretty cool too.

    Well I’d have to, kind of, agree except Ouranos *does* have its other points of interest (as well as those rings you noted) too – notably its sideways rotation. It also boasts one of the strangest most intriguing looking moons in Miranda and just may (or so I’ve read somewhere) actually develop a band or bands at certain Ouranosean seasons. Perhaps it isn’t always going to be as bland as the Voyager 2 images from its 1986 fly-by unfortunately made it appear! 😉

    Great posts there Dr Plait – both times – thanks. :-)

  26. and in modern greek Uranus or ouranos (greeklish in the text) means the sky.

    @Lone Wolf

    Cronus did not kill Uranus but he cut his genitals.

    the video very informational. I did not know the most of infos.

    cortlinux the greek 😉

  27. djowalsen

    A more Latinized pronounciation would be oo-ron-us. There are no accents in Latin. No one’s going is ever to pronounce it that way, though.

  28. Asimov Fan

    @ MTU: It also boasts one of the strangest most intriguing looking moons in Miranda

    When Miranda was first mentioned in the Serenity movie by River Tamm, my first reaction was: “Cool the Firefly crew are going to that moon of Ouranos! I know where that is!” 😉

    Turned out they’d set it up as a totally different fictional world instead which was almost disappointing for that bit of “bad astronomy” although still a great set of scenes and awesome movie but I still associate Miranda with Reavers and the Alliance secret shame.

    Looking at the (I presume to correct scale) shot of the Ouranian moons on the video there, I’m surprised to see just how small it looks besides the other moons – if your curious it’s the innermost and very much smallest & the image I’m talking about at the 1min 15 secs to 1min 22 secs mark.

    Ouranos does have another distinction too – it is the faintest & most distant planet human eyes can actually detect without telescopic or binocular aid. At magnitude 5-6 it looks like a very dim star & if you’ve got a good dark sky you can go out tonight and observe it for yourselves its currently on the Aquarius-Pisces border moving into Pisces for years to come apart from a brief incursion into Cetus in 2012-13. You’ll probably want to spot it with binoculars or a telescope first & a star chart or planisphere is pretty much essential for finding it – noting its slow progress across the sky also helps confirm you’ve seen it.

    Great video here – I liked the new theory for the sideways position of the planet which makes sense too. Now if we could just find that large missing ex-moon somewhere ..

    I presume that’s the same new theory the BA mentioned in that other Uranus related post here :

    not too long ago?

  29. Pi-needles

    @ 26. cortlinux Says:

    @Lone Wolf: Cronus did not kill Uranus but he cut his genitals.

    Yup. Cronus overthrew the old gods and had Uranus castrated rather than killed – a fate worse than death?

    cortlinux the greek

    So … how do the greeks pronounce it? What spelling is it in the greek form?

    @ 25. Messier Tidy Upper Says:

    I don’t find the many lame and juvenile jokes about Ouranos’es name funny – more just pathetic

    Yeah they’re all a bit assinine aren’t they? 😉

    It is ironic that Uranus is a gassy world and probably has lots of strong wind though. 😉


    The BA: Related post (and to pre-empt any Futurama jokes)

    That didn’t quite work did it? Eg. # 18 T.E.L.

  30. StevoR

    From my comment (19) on the earlier thread liked here by Asimov fan (28) my

    Three still unaswered questions on the Ouranoese large moon theory for explaining Ouranos’es sideways position :


    As for the sideways position of Ouranos being due to ejecting a large moon, all I can say is ejected *how*?

    Interesting idea but a bit … um … Velikovskian (( ) isn’t it? Y’know planets ejecting large objects and all.


    1. You’d expect to see a bit more disruption of the Ouranousean satellite and ring systems wouldn’t you?

    2. Is there any observational evidence for this idea or is it just hypothetical?

    3. Also is it necessary to explain this or is it superflous? Don’t planetary axial tilts naturally vary unless they are stabilised by large moons such as is the case for Earth?


    Anyone care to answer these or comment please?

  31. Papamama

    They should have stuck with George. Let the French fume!

  32. Sean

    They changed the name to Urrectum fairly recently actually.

    EDIT: Damnit! beat to the punch.

  33. I just call it Your Anus and enjoy the laugh. Especially when working with schoolkids.
    Wouldn’t want astronomy to seem stuffy, eh?
    Remember: A cheap laugh is still a laugh!

    BTW: Ivan wins the internet for 1 Uranian year!

  34. T.E.L.

    Sean Said:

    “They changed the name to Urrectum fairly recently actually.

    EDIT: Damnit! beat to the punch.”

    That’s ok. It’s a first-class joke, and needs to be said more often.

  35. «bønez_brigade»

    farking spam filter…
    [apologies for possible multiple comments]

    Anyone else notice creationist Harun Yahya’s green ‘Atlas of Creation, Vol 2’ sitting on the shelf of the dude w/ glasses (Michael Merrifield)? It’s easiest to see at 6:02.

    I’d post a link to an image for comparision, but the spam filter won’t let me.
    Phil, any chance I could be removed from the spam list, so’s I can post links?

    [not sure how I got on the list to begin with. then again, maybe yahya’s url is what’s tripping the filter, no?]

  36. The Other Ian

    And while we’re on the subject of fixing the name of Uranus, I’d like to point out that we also need to fix the name of Neptune. The sequence Mars – Jupiter – Saturn – Uranus is ancestral in nature. To continue the progression, Neptune should be known as Tellus.

    And yes, I do realize that there’s already an astronomical body that bears that name.

  37. “Is it true that if the universe is spatially closed then one can see the back of one’s head in a telescope, at least in principle?” “Yes, and if you look a bit further down, you can see Uranus.”

  38. Stanley H. Tweedle

    /ˈjʊrənəs/ is correct!

  39. Stanley Tweedle

    /ˈjʊrənəs/ is correct!

  40. costas

    In greek Uranus is also called the sky.

  41. BigBob

    Reminds me of the ‘Sky at Night’ spoof where they were discussing a cosmic body called Bumhole, pronounced ‘Boom Holei’.

  42. Harry Tuttle

    Unless you regularly pronounce ‘Cicero’ as Kai-Keer-O, ‘Caesar’ as Kay-Zar and ‘Mark Antony’ as Mar-kus An-toe-nee-us you really shouldn’t worry much about how the Romans would have pronounced stuff.

  43. I was away from a computer for the weekend and I missed my opportunity to make a puerile joke. I live for posts about Uranus. DAMNIT!

    Oh, wait. Nobody posted the observation that the USS Enterprise is similar to toilet paper…

  44. djowalsen

    Actually, Cicero would be pronounced Kee-ker-o and Caesar would be pronounced Kai-sar, which should look familiair…

  45. Kinky

    “Astropixie” has added another Uranus post – a pop culture record one about “a rocket to Uranus.”

    Link :

  46. Fernando

    Anybody know who first joked with the name?
    Why don t they call it Ur-Colon?:)
    Tellus is for Earth, Terra refers to the soil not the planet.

  47. Merijn Vogel

    I thought, just watch them all… and then started counting.. approximately 7-8 minutes per video, times sixty is well, 7-8 hours.. so I now just watch a few each evening. Very very nice video’s about the science behind ‘magical’ symbols. And to see the inside of professors rooms, which look just like the ones I have seen from the inside while being a student. (computer science)

  48. Bob V

    I save myself from a lot of stupid snickering from boneheads by referring to it as the “U-Planet”.

  49. The subsequent time I learn a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to learn, however I really thought youd have one thing interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you would fix in the event you werent too busy on the lookout for attention.


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