Cracking jokes about Uranus makes you look like an…

The planet Uranus as seen by Voyager 2 about a week after its flyby. Click the image for more information on how the image was created. [Credit: NASA / JPL / Emily Lakdawalla]
The planet Uranus as seen by Voyager 2 about a week after its flyby. Click the image for more information on how the image was created. [Credit: NASA / JPL / Emily Lakdawalla]
It never fails: every time someone publishes new research or even mentions the planet Uranus, many people feel inclined to make jokes. The same jokes. Yet, those same people will also act like nobody has ever seen the “anus” part of the planet’s name before. Like a political writer seeing the same jokes about Anthony Weiner’s name, I’m feeling a little worn out. And as with Weiner, the humor relies on mispronouncing the name.* I mean, at least try, people! I know I don’t have a sense of humor, but I expect a little creativity from jokes.

The other associated complaint is that by mocking the name Uranus, you end up missing out on a very weird, poorly understood planet. Unlike all the other large worlds in the Solar System, Uranus and Neptune have been visited only once: by Voyager 2. (Yo momma’s so ugly, Voyager accelerated while leaving Earth to get away from her.) Uranus is tipped over almost completely, so its north pole nearly lies in the plane of its orbit — the likely sign of a cataclysmic impact early in the Solar System’s history. That indicates very long alternating seasons of perpetual (albeit weak) sunshine and constant darkness, which no doubt affects the behavior of the planet’s atmosphere.

Unlike their larger cousins Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have only a few thin clouds high in the atmosphere, but their atmospheres are churned constantly by extremely high winds. However, Uranus returns much less energy to space than it receives from the Sun, in contrast to Neptune. Both planets consist of a vast global “ocean” of compressed water, methane, and ammonia, but whether they have rocky cores or not is unknown. (On the other hand, yo momma’s so massive, she has a molten core of chocolate.)

The interesting aspects of Uranus don’t end at the cloudtops. The planet has a number of interesting satellites, including the truly bizarre moon Miranda, which has wildly varying terrain indicating a violent past. Uranus also has a set of dark rings, probably ice mixed with darker materials, including possibly organic compounds. That makes the ring particles more like comets than Saturn’s rings, which are much more reflective. (Yo momma’s so massive, she tidally disrupts cookies into an orbiting ring of crumbs.)

Uranus is also the only planet in the Solar System with satellites not named for mythological figures. Instead, they’re named for characters from Shakespeare and Alexander Pope: Oberon, Titania, Miranda, and so forth. (No moon named for Bottom yet, even though yo momma keeps lobbying for it.) Thanks to Loren Riley for reminding me of this fact in the comments.

Currently, nobody has serious plans to send another probe to Uranus or Neptune, a true shame in my opinion. Both planets are hard to get to, of course, and to put a probe in orbit (like Cassini orbiting Saturn) would require figuring out how to manage fuel between high speed to get the robot there in a reasonable amount of time and braking once it arrived. And unlike with Voyager 2, the planets are no longer in the ideal position for a “grand tour”, so successive flybys aren’t practical. But isn’t it worth it? Just look at these newly processed images of the planets by Emily Lakdawalla! They’re interesting! 

* Thanks to the Latinization of the name, we lost the initial O, but a closer spelling to the original Greek would be Ouranos, pronounced roughly “OOrahnes”. Many of us compromise by pronouncing it “YURehnes”, with the accent on the first syllable and a secondary stress on the second.

9 responses to “Cracking jokes about Uranus makes you look like an…”

  1. I really do wonder when we might get another close up look at the ice giants. They’re both rather fascinating worlds…

  2. Yo momma’s so ugly scientists call her acne The Great Red Spot. She’s so fat we just discovered a new moon orbiting her. She’s so stupid scientists use her head to simulate the vacuum of space.

    If Uranus emits less energy to space than it receives, I assume that it is either warming up or it is storing the excess energy somehow?

  3. These are examples of some dry biology and science jokes that seem to permeate the environment no matter how much you try to discourage them.

  4. I would really like to see the name changed back to the Greek Ouranos, which would pretty much put an end to these jokes. Sending orbiters to both Uranus and Neptune is something we should be doing and would amount to far better use of US tax dollars than a decade of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    1. If the name has even the most passing semblance to a body part you’re going to get jokes. There are chemistry jokes about miazole and urazole.

      And everyone loves a war, you can really get behind killing bad people far away in a way you just can’t with improving mankind’s collective knowledge.

  5. Agreed! I’m not sure when ‘yourANUS’ came into vogue, but yeah, I always pronounce it ‘yourAHnos’. Then I immediately say ‘and Uranus is the only planet in our solar system whose moons are not named after mythological characters’ – just to change the subject.

    1. Oh geez, I totally forgot to mention that, even though I planned to! Putting an update in now….

  6. Porlock Junior Avatar
    Porlock Junior

    That god just has an unfortunate name, relative to modern English phonetics. Call it yourAHnus all you like, but the OED preferred pronunciation, on both sides of the pond, is Youranus, or, you know, Urinous. All of its listed pronunciations start with a you- and not an oo- sound.

    I learned this many years ago, when The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) published a retraction of its caption for a previous issue’s cover art. From memory: Station under construction on Triton, Uranus in the background. A reader noted that Uranus looked awfully big in the picture as viewed from Neptune’s larger moon, and they confessed:

    Much though the admission may pain us,
    We concede our behavior’s been heinous.
    We vow in the future
    To read proof with due care [sorry, that’s what they wrote]
    And keep Triton remote from Uranus.
    (Though all that’s aestheticallly pure in ous
    Insists that the word should be URanus.)

    In fact I don’t clearly remember how they spelled the final word to make it clear that they intended Urinous. In any case, I didn’t think at the time that the choice of one or the other made much difference.

    As to dirty-minded chemistry, I admit that my high-school friends and I were much amused by the thought of Na2U2O7 and the like. Who knew that sodium could do that?

    But how about a 5-member aromatic ring, analogous to pyrrole, but with arsenic in place of nitrogen? I’m just glad that in our innocent youth we knew nothing of arsole.

    Clean, non-vulgar chemical names also exist. How about the chloride salt of trivalent curium? Yep, curious chloride.

    1. I used to work the graveyard shift in the chem lab in exchange for oxidizers. Yeah, I got paid the nitrate.

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