How The Planets Got Their Names (And Other Things You Didn't Know)

How ARE you supposed to pronounce Uranus?

Our Solar System is endlessly fascinating. Explorers and astronomers have spent thousands of years exploring the galaxy to answer the universal question, "Is there anybody out there?" 

The stories of the planets they found are equally amazing. But, have you ever wondered how the planets got their names? 

01
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Mercury

Mercury. SCIEPRO/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

The closest planet to the sun, Mercury, is named after the Roman god of commerce, travel and thievery (who was also known as Hermes in Greek mythology).

Did you know:

- Mercury is the second smallest planet in the solar system.

- Mercury's temperatures range widely, from 90 degrees Kelvin to 700 degrees Kelvin. 

- Mercury has no known moons or satellites.

- In astrology, Mercury's speed and elusiveness make it associated with mind and communication.

- Mercury (the element) derives its name from the use of Mercury (the planet) in alchemy. 

More things you need to know about Mercury →

02
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Venus

Venus. SCIEPRO/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

The second planet from the sun, the planet Venus is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty.  

Did you know:

- Venus is considered Earth's sister because it is roughly the same size as Earth, and has roughly the same chemical makeup.  

- Venus rotates east to west, instead of west to east like the other planets that orbit the Solar System.

- Today, Venus is completely uninhabitable by humans.

- The weight of Venus' atmosphere is 90 times greater than that on Earth, the same pressure as if submerged under 3,000 feet of water.

- A Soviet spacecraft was only able to send data for 51 minutes before the Venus' atmosphere crushed it.

More things you need to know about Venus →

03
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Earth

Earth from Apollo 17. NASA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Earth, the planet you're currently on (unless you have some really good astronaut connections) is the third planet from the sun. Its name comes from Old English and Germanic languages, the only planet not named from Roman or Greek mythology!

Did you know:

- Earth is actually the fifth largest planet by diameter.

- The idea of the Earth orbiting the Sun was, well, controversial. Originally philosophy held the opposite idea; Copernicus changed that thinking around 1543, but it wasn't until about 60 years later that Galileo helped confirm it (despite the heresy it represented).

- The Earth actually isn't perfectly round. It has a slight bulge around the Equator, making its diameter a bit longer there.

More things you need to know about Earth →

04
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Mars

Mars. Getty Images/Getty Images News

The fourth planet, Mars, is named for the Roman God of War. It's also known as the Red Planet, because its surface is, well, red.

Did you know:

- The average temperature on Mars can range from -133° C (-207° F) at the winter pole to almost 27° C (80° F) on the day side during summer.

- The Martian year is nearly two Earth years, but a day on Mars is only about half an hour longer than Earth's.

- Mars has two "satellites" or moons, Phobos and Deimos.

- As the closest planet to Earth, Mars has been visited by many probes, starting with Mariner 4 in 1967, the Mars Rovers in 2004, and the Phoenix Lander in 2008.  

- The Phoenix Lander discovered water in 2008, starting a new debate on whether life could survive there.

More things you need to know about Mars →

05
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Jupiter

Jupiter. SCIEPRO/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Next up is Jupiter, which is named for the king of the Roman Gods because it is the largest planet in the known Solar System. 

Did you know:

- Jupiter has a Red Spot that is bigger than the entire Earth. It's a sort of permanent storm, which is actually shrinking.

- Although Saturn is more commonly known for this feature, Jupiter also has rings that are made up of dust. They extend to the top of Jupiter's clouds.

- It's the fastest rotating planet; Jupiter's days last just under 10 hours, compared with Earth's 24.

- Jupiter has at least 60 moons, with more discovered all the time.

More things you need to know about Jupiter →

06
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Saturn

Saturn. SCIEPRO/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Saturn's name comes from the Roman god of agriculture. Its most iconic feature, its rings, are primarily made up of dust and ice particles.

Did you know:

- It appears as if Saturn's rings generate and destroy "mini-moons" in a regular pattern.

- Saturn's moon, Titan, has conditions that could, under the right circumstances, support life.

- Saturn has more than 60 moons of its own. 

- Saturn's year is nearly 30 Earth years long, and its day is about 10 Earth hours in length.

More things you need to know about Saturn →

07
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Uranus

Uranus. Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

While Uranus' name ended up being chosen for the Latin translation of the Greek God of the sky , it took a little while to get there.

When Sir William Herschel discovered the planet in 1781, he decided to name it Georgium Sidus in honor of Britain's newly minted King George III. Unsurprisingly, this very British-centric name was not adopted. Other names like Hershel (for its discoverer) and Neptune (more on that later) were discussed, but in 1850, the Greek connection was secured when Uranus was adopted.

Did you know:

- Yes, the primary pronunciation of Uranus is likely to make some folks giggle. Its alternative, well, isn't really much better.

- One Uranus year is roughly equivalent to 87 Earth years. One Uranus day, however is about 17 Earth hours long.

- Uranus has a highly tilted orbit, giving the appearance of "rolling" around the sun. 

More things you need to know about Uranus →

08
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Neptune

Neptune. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Neptune is now the farthest planet from the sun (sorry, Pluto).  Like its neighbor planet, Uranus, Neptune's naming history was a bit more complicated.

Urbain Le Verrier, claiming the right to name the planet, since it was his calculation that lead to its discovery, offered the name Neptune. After changing his mind because he wanted to name the planet after himself, he was denied by the British. Neptune, named for the Roman God of the Sea, emerged as the winner.

Did you know:

- Neptune was discovered by Mathematics before it was actually sighted by telescopes.

- Neptune has a Dark Spot, a storm much like Jupiter's Red Spot.  It was explored by Voyager 2 in 1989. 

- A Neptune year is roughly equivalent to 165 Earth years.

 

09
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Honorable Mention - Pluto

Pluto. Antonio M. Rosario/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Long considered a planet after its discovery in 1930, Pluto was stripped of its planethood in 2006, and is now considered a "dwarf planet." 

The name Pluto was chosen in March 1930 after an 11-year-old in Oxford, England suggested the name. Pluto was the Roman God of the Underworld (Pluto's conditions are particularly bleak), and the first two letters honor Percival Lowell, who spent the last years of his life trying to discover it unsuccessfully.  

Did you know:

Pluto was the most recent planet to be detected (1930).

- The debate of whether or not Pluto should be a planet rages on to this day.

- Its orbit is so eccentric that it actually brings Pluto inside the orbital path of Neptune. 

More things you need to know about Pluto 

Next: See the 7 Most EXTREME Things in Space