A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Hooptedoodle #16 - A Planet by Any Other Name


I am sure that most people know this anyway, but this morning I was reminded of my favourite story involving heavenly bodies. In 1781, while conducting a survey of the Zodiac, astronomer William Herschel discovered another planet which had previously escaped attention. Patriotic to a fault, the noble Herschel named his new planet George (strictly, Georgium Sidius) in honour of his patron, the English King George III.

Understandably, reaction to this name was mixed, non-British astronomers being generally less supportive. It took 60 years before it was agreed that Uranus would be a more appropriate companion to Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn than George.


William Herschel (1738-1822)

I am always fascinated by the human obsession with giving things names anyway, although I accept that we have to have some way of identifying objects. Every blemish on the moon, however small, has a name. Does it know? Does it care?


Whatever, what goes around comes around. Herschel (who was a noted musician and composer in addition to his stature as a scientist and builder of telescopes) is himself commemorated by the naming of the largest crater on Mimas, one of the moons of Saturn. Mimas is the smallest known round object in the Solar System - there are smaller things, including a few moons, but they are all classed as asteroids, and do not have sufficient mass to smooth themselves into spheres.

So there you have it. Apart from his loyal indebtedness to the king for funding, it seems hard to believe that Herschel failed to see that a planet named George could well be a source of international hilarity for ever, though arguably no more so than the name which replaced it.

Enough of the Hooptedoodles, already - the third part of the computing posting is shaping up, and should appear in a day or so.

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