Thursday, 13 March 2008


“Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another” – Plato

Today’s birthday plant is the ivy flowerheads, Hedera helix. It is symbolic of a need of support, tenacity, wedded love, fidelity and immortality. It is a plant of Saturn and in some circles considered an evil omen as it kills whatever it embraces.

The planet Uranus was discovered on this day in 1781 by the astronomer William Herschel. The planet was originally called Georgius Sidus to honour king George III, patron of Herschel.

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun and is the third largest in the solar system. It has an equatorial diameter of 51,800 kilometers and orbits the Sun once every 84.01 Earth years. It has a mean distance from the Sun of 2.87 billion kilometers. It rotates about its axis once every 17 hours 14 minutes. Uranus has at least 22 moons. The two largest moons, Titania and Oberon, were discovered by William Herschel in 1787.

The atmosphere of Uranus is composed of 83% hydrogen, 15% helium, 2% methane and small amounts of acetylene and other hydrocarbons. Methane in the upper atmosphere absorbs red light, giving Uranus its blue-green color. The atmosphere is arranged into clouds running at constant latitudes, similar to the orientation of the more vivid latitudinal bands seen on Jupiter and Saturn.

Uranus is distinguished by the fact that it is tipped on its side, so that its poles are on the equator, so to speak. Its unusual position is thought to be the result of a collision with a planet-sized body early in the solar system's history. Voyager 2 found that one of the most striking influences of this sideways position is its effect on the tail of the magnetic field, which is itself tilted 60 degrees from the planet's axis of rotation. The magnetotail was shown to be twisted by the planet's rotation into a long corkscrew shape behind the planet. The magnetic field source is unknown.

In 1977, the first nine rings of Uranus were discovered. During the Voyager encounters, these rings were photographed and measured, as were two other new rings and ringlets.

The name of the planet was settled upon to be in keeping with the other planets, which all had nemes of gods and goddesses of Greek mythology. Uranus, also known as Ouranos, was the embodiment of the sky or heavens, and known as the god of the sky. He was the first son of Gaia (the earth) and he also became her husband. According to Hesiod, their children included the Titans: six sons (Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus and Cronus) and six daughters (Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe and Tethys).

There were other offspring: the Cyclopes, (who were named Brontes, Steropes and Arges and were later known as "one eyed giants"), and also the three monsters known as the Hecatonchires, who each had one hundred hands and fifty heads. Their names were Briareus, Cottus and Gyes. Other offspring of Uranus and Gaia were the Erinyes, who were spirits of punishment and goddesses of vengeance. The Erinyes avenged wrongs which were done to family, especially murder within a family.

Uranus was aghast by the sight of his offspring, the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires. (In a differing version Uranus was frightened of their great strength and the fact that they could easily depose him). He hid them away in Tartarus (the bowels of the earth) inside Gaia, causing her intense pain. The discomfort became so great that she asked her youngest son, Cronus, to castrate his father, as this would cease his fertility and put an end to more monstrous offspring. To accomplish this deed Gaia made an adamantine sickle, which she gave to Cronus. That night Uranus came to lay with Gaia. And as the sky god drew close, Cronus struck with the sickle and cut off Uranus's genitals. From the blood that fell from the open wound were born nymphs and giants, and when Cronus threw the severed genitals into the sea a white foam appeared. From this foam Aphrodite the goddess of love and desire was born.

After Uranus (the sky) had been emasculated, the sky separated from Gaia (the earth) and Cronus became king of the gods. Later, Zeus (the son of Cronus) deposed his father and became the supreme god of the Greek Pantheon.

The word of the day, today is: Uranus!

Uranus |ˈyoŏrənəs; yoŏˈrā-| noun
1 Greek Mythology a personification of heaven or the sky, the most ancient of the Greek gods and first ruler of the universe. He was overthrown and castrated by his son Cronus.
2 Astronomy a distant planet of the solar system, seventh in order from the sun, discovered by William Herschel in 1781.

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