Today marks the anniversary of the 1787 discovery of the two largest moons of the planet Uranus. William Herschel had discovered Uranus on the 13th March 1781 and also discovered Titania and Oberon, on the same night, in 1787. Initially known as Uranus I & II, the moons were given their name by William Herschel’s son, John, many years afterwards in 1852. Their names come from Shakespeare’s “A midsummer’s night dream”; Titania was the queen of the fairies, Oberon the king.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL
Visually rather faint (at apparent magnitude 14 they are only visible in high specification telescopes) these icy remote worlds are very cold; about 70 Kelvin (minus 200 Celsius). Little was known about their nature until 1986 when the NASA planetary probe Voyager-2 arrive at the Uranian system. The moons, as expected, have icy surfaces and are heavily cratered. Unexpected however was the huge canyons seen on Titania; the largest being named ‘Messina Chasmata’ is 1492 km in length.
Although given mythical creature names, it is highly improbable that any form of life will exist on these remote icy bodies.