The Internet was asked to name a probe for Uranus.  Here's how it went

The Internet was asked to name a probe for Uranus. Here’s how it went

Asking the internet to name a science mission has become a tradition, but we think even the bravest might shudder at a recent request on Twitter.

An unofficial Twitter account promoting future missions to the ice giants of our solar system, Giant Ice Missionsasked for suggestions for naming a probe sent to Uranus.

Given the potential puns that are inevitably attached to Uranus, this is dangerous territory, even beyond the expected “Something McSomethingface.” This, of course, was among the best answersbut with soil as fertile as Uranus, why whip a dead horse?

Surprisingly, however, the end jokes seem to be in the minority, with many respondents taking the question in good faith and responding accordingly.

A mission to Uranus isn’t currently in development, but it’s not a pipe dream either. Missions have been sent, to date, to most planets in the solar system. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have all been visited and probed by dedicated probes. Even the moons of Jupiter receive a mission.

Ice Giants, on the other hand, have been somewhat overlooked. Earlier this year, it led a group of US National Academies experts to recommend a mission to Uranus in its ten-year report to NASA.

In fact, Uranus is deemed so important that the panel, of all its recommendations, gave the stinky planet top priority.

“Uranus is one of the most intriguing bodies in the solar system,” the scientists wrote. “Its low internal energy, active atmospheric dynamics and complex magnetic field all present major puzzles.

“A giant primordial impact may have produced the extreme axial tilt of the planet and possibly its rings and satellites, although this is uncertain. Uranus’ large icy rock moons have shown startling evidence of geologic activity in Voyager 2’s limited flyover data, and are potential ocean worlds.”

This concept mission is currently called Uranus Orbiter and Probe (UOP) – but other solar system missions may have catchier names.

Mars has (or had) Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and Perseverance. BepiColombo is currently en route to Mercury, while Akatsuki (a Japanese word meaning “dawn”) is currently orbiting Venus. Saturn had Cassini-Huygens. Jupiter has the probe Juno – named after the Roman goddess queen, married to Jupiter. The Voyager probes have left the solar system; New Horizons follows.

There doesn’t seem to be much naming convention between these missions, which means there’s room for creativity in naming the Uranus probe. Leading contenders include the astronomers who discovered Jupiter (William Herschel) and some of its moons (William Lassell and Gerard Kuiper).

There are also famous explorers – polar explorer Roland Amundsenmountaineer Tenzing Norgay, or Ipirvik-Taqulittuq in honor of the 19th-century Inuk husband and wife who served as guides and interpreters for white Arctic explorers.

If we want to avoid naming the probe after people, a practice that can get cumbersome, other options are a bit more poetic. There’s Caelus, the ancient Roman counterpart of the Greek god Uranus. Or Odin, the Norse god who defeated the ice giants of myth.

What seemed to be the most popular suggestion was Tempest. Indeed, a number of Uranus’ 27 moons are named after characters from Shakespeare, with the largest proportion – nine (or 10, if you count Ariel) from The Tempest.

Whatever its name, the mission would reveal more information about one of the most enigmatic worlds in the solar system.

How could Uranus flip sideways and spin in the opposite direction to the other planets? Why does it have rings like nothing else in the solar system? What are the strange X-rays coming out of it? And why is its magnetic field so messy?

With all these burning questions, one can almost forget what a silly name the planet has in English to begin with.


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