A planetary mnemonic refers to a phrase used to remember the planets and dwarf planets of the Solar System, with the order of words corresponding to increasing sidereal periods of the bodies. One simple visual mnemonic is to hold out both hands side-by-side with fingers spread and thumbs in the same direction, with the fingers of one hand representing the terrestrial planets, and the other hand the gas giants. The first thumb represents the Sun and asteroid belt, including Ceres, and the second thumb represents the asteroid belt and trans-Neptunian objects, including Pluto.
An English-language mnemonic which was current in the 1950s was "Men Very Easily Make Jugs Serve Useful Needs, Perhaps" (for Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto). The structure of this sentence suggests that it may have originated before Pluto's discovery, and can easily be trimmed back to reflect Pluto's demotion. Another common English-language mnemonic for many years was "My Very Elegant Mother Just Sat Upon Nine Pins". Other mnemonics include "My Very Energetic Mother Jumps Skateboards Under Nana's Patio", and "Mary’s violet eyes make Johnnie stay up nights pondering", as well as the apt "My Very Easy Method Just Shows Us Nine Planets", "My Very Efficient Memory Just Stores Up Nine Planets" and "My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets". Another variant which may predate Pluto's discovery is "Mary's violet eyes make Johnny stay up nights, pondering" and it, too, can be trimmed back. Yet another is "Many Volcanoes Emit Mulberry Jam Sandwiches Under Normal Pressure". However, many of these mnemonics were made obsolete by the 2006 definition of planet, which reclassified Pluto (as well as Ceres and Eris) as a dwarf planet.
When Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet, mnemonics could no longer include the final "P". The first notable suggestion came from Kyle Sullivan of Lumberton, Mississippi, USA, whose mnemonic was published in the Jan. 2007 issue of Astronomy magazine: "My Violent Evil Monster Just Scared Us Nuts". In August 2006, for the eight planets recognized under the new definition, Phyllis Lugger, professor of astronomy at Indiana University suggested the following modification to the common mnemonic for the nine planets: "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos". She proposed this mnemonic to Owen Gingerich, Chair of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Planet Definition Committee and published the mnemonic in the American Astronomical Society Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy Bulletin Board on August 25, 2006. It also appeared in Indiana University's IU News Room Star Trak on August 30, 2006. This mnemonic is used by the IAU on their website for the public. Others angry at the IAU's decision to "demote" Pluto composed sarcastic mnemonics in protest. Schott's Miscellany by Ben Schott included the mnemonic, "Many Very Educated Men Justify Stealing Unique Ninth". Mike Brown, who discovered Eris, mentioned hearing "Many Very Educated Men Just Screwed Up Nature". One particular 9 planet mnemonic, "My very easy memory jingle seems useful naming planets", was easily changed once the demotion occurred, becoming the 8 planet mnemonic, "My very easy memory jingle seems useless now". A slightly risque version is "Mary's 'Virgin' Explanation Made Joseph Suspect Upstairs Neighbor". And perhaps simplest of all: "My Very Easy Method: Just SUN".
Eleven planets and dwarf planets
In 2007, the National Geographic Society sponsored a contest for a new mnemonic of MVEMCJSUNPE, incorporating the then eleven known planets and dwarf planets, including Eris, Ceres, and the newly demoted Pluto. On February 22, 2008, "My Very Exciting Magic Carpet Just Sailed Under Nine Palace Elephants", coined by 10-year-old Maryn Smith of Great Falls, Montana, was announced as the winner. The phrase was featured in the song 11 Planets by Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Lisa Loeb and in the book 11 Planets: A New View of the Solar System by David Aguilar (ISBN 978-1426302367).
Thirteen planets and dwarf planets
Since the National Geographic competition, two additional bodies were designated as dwarf planets, Makemake and Haumea, on July 11 and September 17, 2008 respectively. A 2015 New York Times article suggested some mnemonics including, "My Very Educated Mother Cannot Just Serve Us Nine Pizzas—Hundreds May Eat!"
Longer mnemonics will be required in the future, if more of the possible dwarf planets are recognised as such by the IAU. However, at some point enthusiasm for new mnemonics will wane as the number of dwarf planets exceeds the number that people will want to learn. (It is estimated that there may be 200 dwarf planets.)
- Beatty, Kelly (2008-02-28). "Of Planets and Palace Elephants". SkyandTelescope.com. Archived from the original on 2013-02-02. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
- "Physics 110 Astronomy Mnemonics". www.csub.edu/Physics. Archived from the original on 2012-01-18.
- "International Astronomical Union, iau0603 -- Press Release, IAU 2006 General Assembly: Result of the IAU Resolution votes, 24 August 2006". Retrieved 2016-01-30.
- "American Astronomical Society Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy Bulletin Board, August 25, 2006". Retrieved 2016-01-30.
- "Indiana University, IU News Room, Star Trak, August 30, 2006". Retrieved 2016-01-30.
- "Pluto and the Developing Landscape of Our Solar System, Questions and Answers". International Astronomical Union, IAU for the Public. Retrieved 2016-01-30.
- Schott, Ben (2008). Schott's Miscellany 2009. New York: Bloomsbury USA. p. 77. ISBN 978-1-59691-382-0.
- "Julia Sweeney and Michael E. Brown". Armand Hammer. 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-10-06. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
- "XKCD Presents: Some New Science Mnemonics".
- "Mnemonic Device to Remember the Planets Orbiting the Sun".
- "National Geographic Children's Books Announces Winner of New Planetary Mnemonic". Archived from the original on March 6, 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-29.
- "Planet Song". Kids.NationalGeographic.com. Retrieved 2008-09-23. (The song may be heard on-line.)
- "My Very Educated Readers, Please Write Us a New Planet Mnemonic". The New York Times. January 20, 2015. Retrieved June 20, 2015.