HomedyslexiaMemorizing the Planets (With Pictures!)

One of my least favorite things in school was memorization. At the time, I thought I just didn’t have the brainpower to do it, but now I realize my brain just isn’t wired to do it in the way it was taught. It was only after I left that I figured out a better method for me.

I discovered that if I associate specific features with what I’m trying to memorize, I can actually get the ideas to stick for a while. How about we use the planets of the solar system as an example? I’m just going to address basic appearances and order from the sun, so there won’t be a ton of scientific background involved.

I found that the more I learn about a subject, the easier it is to remember what I need to, because the facts almost always follow a story or pattern.

In order from the sun, the planets go – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Sorry, Pluto. I still love you, even if you’re not considered a planet anymore.

Here’s how I remember which planet is which –

Mercury, as seen from the Mariner 10 aircraft.
Public Domain, Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Mercury – Small and fast. It’s named after the Roman god of communication, who was extremely fast. Going at great speeds creates a lot of heat, so it follows that the god would get pretty hot, just like the planet is. I also associate heat with the sun, and since the planet’s closest to the sun, it follows that every day’s a scorcher there. (First planet from the sun.)

Venus, as viewed by the Hubble Telescope.
Public Domain, Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Venus – It glows like a jewel in the night sky. I imagine the Roman goddess it’s named after wearing jewels that glow just as brightly. Since it’s closer to the sun than we are, between Earth and Mercury, it follows that Venus would reflect more light. (Second planet from the sun.)

We’re home.
By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Earth – That’s us! I use the lyrics from a quirky country song to remember our placement, “Welcome to Earth, third rock from the sun!” (Third planet from the sun.)

Slopes with potential evidence of liquid water on Mars. Taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Public Domain, Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Mars – The appearance is easy to remember, since it’s so often referred to as “The red planet”, but I also know that red is associated with war. Mars is named after the Roman god of war, so that further cements its appearance in my mind. Because the planet itself has so many similarities to Earth, I’ve come to look at it as a sort of older sibling, which is why it gets between us and the rest of space. (Fourth planet from the sun.)

Jupiter with the Shoemaker Comet approaching.
NASA, ESA, H. Weaver and E. Smith (STScI) and J. Trauger and R. Evans (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Public Domain, Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Jupiter – Named after the most powerful god in the Roman pantheon because if it’s huge appearance, it’s easy to remember it’s the largest ‘star’ in the sky. Since Jupiter is the “boss” and the stereotypical image of a boss is of someone being full of hot air, it follows that the planet is a gas giant. Being the biggest, and supposed boss of the solar system, Jupiter’s angry that it’s stuck in the number five spot. That’s why that famous storm forming the red dot is always raging. (Fifth planet from the sun. Though the storm has apparently been shrinking for the past few years, so that memory device might need to change.)

Saturn and its rings.
Public Domain, Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Saturn – The god Saturn ruled over agriculture. When it rains on a field, puddles will form within indentations of the earth. Rings form when raindrops it water, which is how I associate Saturn’s rings with its name. Though, the rings are easy to remember, because they’re so distinct. Saturn’s second largest to Jupiter, so it follows the bigger planet around in ranking. (Sixth planet from the sun.)

Uranus and its rings.
Public Domain, NASA/JPL/STScI

Uranus – Yeah, the potty jokes for that name are endless. I guess that might actually work in its favor, since we’ve all seen blue water in toilets, right? So that makes the planet color easy to remember, anyway. Uranus is actually one of the more unique planets, because its axis is tilted far enough to align the North and South poles where everyone else’s equators are, and why its rings appear to be vertical instead of horizontal. It’s also the only planet named after a Greek god, the deity of the sky, so those factors give it a slightly oddball reputation. It’s also an ice giant, and if you look at its position behind those two gas giants and three rocky worlds, that’s no surprise. (Seventh planet from the sun.)

Neptune’s beautiful colors.Public Domain, Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Neptune – This planet was named after the Roman god of the sea. When I think of the ocean, I think of its incredible size and mind boggling depth, which helps me remember Neptune as being the furthest planet from the sun. The planet actually looks a little like its made out of water, with its liquid-like blue and white coloration. (Eighth planet from the sun.)

My particular associations might not work with everyone, but associating necessary facts with information that engages me makes rote info bit easier to remember.

Color coding might help, too. I’ve also seen folks have luck with actually getting up, moving around and associating certain things, like lines from a play or anatomy names, with particular movements. 

The key seems to be in teaching each learner in conjunction with how their mind works. As always, experimentation is important when it comes to finding the right way to help someone struggling to learn.

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