Uranus and Neptune Get Hebrew Names at Last

Hebrew Language Academy unveiled the new names 'Oron' for Uranus and 'Rahab' for Neptune.

Call it Star Wars. In the end, Oron defeated Shahak and Rahab prevailed over Tarshish as the Hebrew Language Academy on Wednesday unveiled the new names of two planets referred to until now by non-Hebrew names. Henceforth, Uranus will be known as "Oron" and Neptune as "Rahab."

Astronomy and language experts selected the four proposed names, but the general public was allowed to make the final decision.

The initiative to find Hebrew names for planets was first launched by Harel Ben-Ami and Lev Tal-Or, two instructors at the Unit for Science-Oriented Youth, which is part of Tel Aviv University's School of Education. The project was part of UNESCO's International Year of Astronomy.

The vote, which was conducted via the web, was jointly managed by the university unit and the Hebrew Language Academy under the title "A Hebrew Star is Born" - a play on the title "A Star is Born," Israel's version of the popular television show "American Idol."

First, thousands of web surfers responded to an appeal to suggest names for both planets - which, unlike the other planets in the solar system, had never been given Hebrew names. Then, the experts picked the four finalists and the final vote began.

"Oron" received 2,808 votes a replacement for "Uranus," far ahead of "Shahak." Nearly 3,000 voters preferred "Rahab" for Neptune, more than double those who wished to see it named Tarshish.

Both Hebrew names were inspired by their Greek and Latin equivalents. Rahab, like Neptune, comes from the nautical world: It is the name of a sea monster in the Bible and Talmud. A source at the Academy said Oron was chosen partly because of its phonetic similarity to the word Uranus and partly because "Oron means small light - hinting at the pale light the planet emits when seen from Earth because of its great distance from the sun."

The initiators of the name change hope the planets' new names will catch on better than some other Hebrew neologisms, such as mirshetet for Internet, which has been largely forgotten.

"The reason I'm excited is not so much the Hebrew names but the very fact of exposing the Israeli public, including teenagers and youths, to the story of our solar system," said Prof. Avishai Dekel, an astrophysicist who chaired the judging panel.