This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for March 13, 2017: The Presence

Mar. 13, 2017: on this day: Uranus discovered

On this date in 1781, English astronomer Sir William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. He wasn’t the first keen-eyed observer to spot the planet — John Flamsteed noted it in 1690 — but he was the first one to figure out that it was a planet and not a star. He could tell by how slowly it was moving that it must be very far from the Sun, farther even than Saturn, which was the farthest known planet. He offered to name the planet “Georgium Sidus,” after his patron King George III, but it was decided instead to stick with the Greco-Roman deity theme. The planet was named after Ouranos, the Greek god of the sky. Over the years, astronomers have discovered 27 moons orbiting the blue-green ice giant, and they’ve named the moons after characters from Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. Uranus’s axis is tilted so far that it appears to be lying on its side, and its rings circle the planet vertically.