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The centaur belt contains objects with orbits ranging from Jupiter's orbit to Neptune's, and ranging in size as much as the asteroids, so these figures are only for Chiron, the first recognized centaur, which orbits between Saturn and Uranus.

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Centaurs on Earth:

Chiron, the first centaur, was discovered in 1977 by Charles Kowal. Chiron was not the first centaur to be discovered, but it was the first to be recognized as a new class of astronomical body, and since Chiron of Greek myth was a centaur, "centaur" was what they called the new bodies. We have long since used up all the centaur names from myth on these new bodies. Chiron is classified as both an asteroid and a comet.


A moving star that can be deemed a hitherto unknown planet-like object circulating beyond the orbit of Saturn
— William Herschel

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Uranus on Earth:

For time out of mind (literally—we have no idea when this first entered human awareness), there were seven planets in the sky: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Sun and Moon (also classed as planets in the old astronomy). The new astronomy moved the Sun to the center and added some moons, but it was still a Big Deal when William Herschel discovered a genuine new planet in 1781.

Herschel was a German immigrant to England, and, perhaps feeling the ardent patriotism for his adopted country that immigrants sometimes feel, he proposed to name the new planet Georgium Sidus—George's Star—after King George III. But the rest of the world could not stomach the idea of reciting the planets as "... Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, George" and were not that fond of England's king (particularly over here in rebellious America). In myth, Mars is the son of Jupiter, and Jupiter is the son of Saturn, so they decided to continue the genealogy and name the new planet for Saturn's father, Uranus.

Herschel found Uranus because he was looking for it. By Herschel's time, astronomical theory and observation were advanced enough that people were sure something was pulling Saturn slightly off its expected orbit. That something was Uranus. The planet had actually been seen before, but had always been mistaken for a dim star.

Being new to human experience, Uranus had no metal assigned to it by alchemy, as the other planets had. So, when chemists discovered a new metal in 1789, they named it "uranium" after the new-found planet.

Uranus was explored by Voyager 2 in 1986.

Unfortunately, Uranus' main contribution to Earthly culture is probably the sniggering its name occasions in the English-speaking world. Astronomers therefore prefer the pronunciation "YOUR-ahn-us."

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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2012