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The Question

(Submitted April 30, 1997)

We is studying about the planets and their moons. Neptune's moons are named after sea creatures. Why are Uranus's moons named after Shakespearean characters rather than something related to Uranus?

The Answer

John Herschel, son of William Herschel (who discovered Uranus), and William Lassell named the moons after characters from Shakespeare and from Alexander Pope's 'Rape of the Lock', according to http://wwwflag.wr.usgs.gov/USGSFlag/Space/nomen/append7.html

The planets and moons in our solar system have been named by astronomers (usually ,led by whoever discovered the particular object) suggesting the name -- sometimes they tried to mythologically match moon names to planet names, but there is no rule that this must be done. Names must be submitted to and approved by a "governing board" of scientists before they are accepted by the scientific community. Toward this end, you can have a look at:

http://www-pdsimage.jpl.nasa.gov/PDS/public/vikingo/gazetter.txt.html

Rule 5 has been invoked by the IAU when establishing a theme for naming features on newly discriminated satellites or planets. Thus, newly discovered Uranian satellites and features on previously discovered satellites continued the theme established by William Lassell when he named the first four satellites for characters (mostly bright and dark spirits) from Shakespeare and Pope; names for satellites of Neptune continue the "watery" theme established by the names of the planet and first two satellites.

You might also have a look at

http://wwwflag.wr.usgs.gov/USGSFlag/Space/nomen/nomen.html

Regards,
David Palmer, Damian Audley, and Laura Whitlock

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