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Welcome to the Greenwood.Net Curiosity Corner

How's your mnemonic?

Jun 21, 2017

Help Your Memory with a Mnemonic June 23, 2017

Curiosity Corner
Dr. Jerry D. Wilson
Emeritus Professor of Physics
Lander University

QUESTION: What is the saying that helps you remember the names of the planets? (Asked by a confused student.)

REPLY: What you are looking for is a mnemonic, which is a memory device. For example, one I use frequently is the name “ROY G. BIV.” This allows me to remember the colors of the rainbow or visible spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

The saying that is used to remember the names of the planets, or at least the one I'm familiar with, is: "My very excellent mother just served us nine pizzas.” The first letter of each word gives you Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, which are the planets of our solar system in order outward from the Sun.

Well, it used to be. As you probably know, Pluto got demoted and is no longer considered to be one of the major planets, but rather a “dwarf” planet. In 2006, astronomers of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) got together and defined what criteria a planet should have. Pluto missed the boat and was classified as a dwarf planet. And, the asteroid Ceres, which lies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, qualifies as a dwarf planet! I’m from the old school and still think of Pluto as a planet. But, if you use the mnemonic to remember the planets, hold the pizza.

Incidentally, did you know that all of the planets were named after Greek or Roman gods, except one? The exception is the third one from the Sun – Earth.

Here's another favorite mnemonic of mine, which is attributed to James Jeans, a British astronomer and mathematician. It goes: "How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy chapters involving quantum mechanics." What does this help you remember? Taking the number of letters in each word (and adding a decimal point after the first) will give you 3.14159265358979, which is the value of pi (π) to 15 digits – something everyone should know.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” —Mark Twain

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or email jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to www.curiosity-corner.net.

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