Shakespeare in Space

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Uranus and its moons taken by the solar system communications team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Miranda, Caliban, Prospero, and Ferdinand: the moons of Uranus read like the cast of The Tempest.  Why is that? The practice of naming planets and stars goes all the way back to Galileo. For centuries, the rule was: you find it, you name it. But that doesn’t completely explain how William Shakespeare’s characters ended up in outer space, circling the planet Uranus. According to Derek Sears of NASA's Ames Research Center, the reason is simple. “I do think most astronomers have some sort of a huge romantic streak,” he says. Of course, an astronomer can call a discovery 181-P, but isn’t it just more romantic to say Sycorax or Juliet? After all, as Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name?”

This story was made possible with support from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Music Playlist

  1. The Planets, Op.32 : II. Venus, the Bringer of Peace

    Artist: Gustav Holst and The London Symphony Orchestra
    Album: Holst Conducts the Planets : Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra
    Label: Mach60 Music
  2. Symphony No. 17 in C Major: I. Allegro by Frederick William Herschel - 

    Artist: London Mozart Players
  3. Brahms: Scherzo In E Flat Minor, Op.4

    Artist: Wilhelm Kempff
    Album: Schumann / Brahms: Complete 1950s Solo Recordings
    Label: DG
  4. Begin the Beguine

    Artist: Artie Shaw and His Orchestra
    Album: Begin the Beguine
    Label: RCA Bluebird