URANUS, URANIUM

In Greek mythology Ouranos was an ancient sky god whose name stood for «heaven». The Romans called him Uranus. By whatever name, he was the husband of Gaea, the goddess of Earth, the father of the Titans, the Cyclops, and the Furies, and was the original ruler of the world. (He was also castrated with a sickle by his son, Cronus, at the instigation of his mother.)
Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), a British astronomer, made a remarkable discovery on March 13, 1781. He spotted a new planet, the first such discovery since ancient times. The naming of the planet was his privilege. Up to that moment humans had observed only six planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Earth. (The last, of course, was not only observed but also stood on.) Herschel named his discovery Uranus in honor of the god of the sky. He was appointed astronomer to King George III, who later made him a knight.
In 1789, Martin Henrich Klaproth (1743-1817), a German chemist who first identified the elements uranium, zirconium, cerium, and titanium, was experimenting with pitchblende when he found within it an unusual new metallic element, one that was radioactive, element 92. In honor of the new planet discovered by Herschel, Klaproth coined a name for his find: uranium.
His new element contains forms called isotopes, which are used as a source of atomic energy. Little did Klaproth know, and little did the world know, that his element, now defined by Webster as «a rare, heavy, white metallic element that has no important uses», would be the cog in the wheel that produced the atomic bomb.