Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Uranus moons named after characters in Shakespearean plays

Planet Uranus has an interesting naming history itself and so do have its moons. They are named for characters in plays written by William Shakespeare and also for characters in Alexander Pope's “Rape of the Lock” [1,2]:
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream: Oberon, Puck (originally designated S/1985 U1), Titania;
  • As You Like It: Rosalind (originally designated S/1986 U4);
  • Hamlet: Ophelia (originally designated S/1986 U8); 
  • King Lear: Cordelia (originally designated S/1986 U7);
  • Much Ado About Nothing: Margaret (originally designated S/2003 U3);
  • Othello, the Moor of Venice: Desdemona (originally designated S/1986 U6);
  • Romeo and Juliet: Juliet (originally designated S/1986 U2);
  • The Merchant of Venice: Portia (originally designated S/1986 U1);
  • The Taming of the Shrew: Bianca (originally designated S/1986 U9);
  • The Tempest: Ariel, Caliban (originally designated S/1997 U1), Ferdinand (originally designated S/2001 U2),  Francisco (originally designated S/2001 U3), Miranda, Prospero (originally designated S/1999 U3), Setebos (originally designated S/1999 U1), Stephano (originally designated S/1999 U2), Sycorax (originally designated S/1997 U2), Trinculo (originally designated S/2001 U1);
  • The Winter's Tale: Perdita (originally designated S/1986 U10);
  • Timon of Athens: Cupid (originally designated S/2003 U2);
  • Troilus and Cressida: Cressida (originally designated S/1986 U3);
  • Rape of the Lock: Belinda (originally designated S/1986 U5), Mab (originally designated S/2003 U1), Umbriel.
The Tempest caused a storm of ten moon names.

The two largest Uranian moons, Oberon and Titania, were discovered in 1787 by William Herschel [2], who discovered Uranus itself. Ariel and Umbriel were discovered in 1851 by William Lassell [2]. Almost a century later, Gerard Kuiper discovered Miranda in 1948 [2]. The remaining moons, having a systematic original designation, were discovered at the Palomar Observatory (California), at observatories on the island of Hawaii, at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory  (Victoria, British Columbia) and at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (Chile) as well as remotely via the the Hubble Space Telescope and the Voyager 2 spacescraft.

The following is an alphabetical list of the 27 Uranian moons, each linked to a NASA page with details on discovery and (re)naming:

Ariel, Belinda, Bianca, Caliban, Cordelia, Cressida, Cupid, Desdemona, Ferdinand, Francisco, Juliet, Mab, Margaret, Miranda, Oberon, Ophelia, Perdita, Portia, Prospero, Puck, Rosalind, Setebos, Stephano, Sycorax, Titania, Trinculo, Umbriel.

Often, more is known about the eponymous character of the fictional work than about the actual moon. 

Keywords: astronomy, planetary science, nomenclature, dramatic literature

References and more to explore
[1] Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Pluto Files. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2009; page 9.
[2] National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) > Solar System Exploration > Uranus: Moons [solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Display=Moons&Object=Uranus].

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