Reading Where Is Our Solar System? was a wondrous voyage through space for me and my little lad. In case you missed my review, you can find it here.
One of the most interesting parts was learning about the mythology that surrounds the solar system, imagined by ancient peoples to make sense of the vast expanse in the sky.
Where Is Our Solar System? begins by sending us back thousands of years into the fields of ancient China, where farmers were terrified when amidst their workday, the sun-streaked sky suddenly turned to blackness. The farmer’s concluded that a dragon was eating the sun. The only recourse they had was to scare the dragon away, and they did so by making the loudest ruckus they could muster by beating drums, chanting, and banging pots and pans. The cacophony did just the trick, and after only a few moments, the sun was back and blazing in her rightful splendor.
Ancient Greeks were also affright by the shrouding of darkness resulting from a solar eclipse and rationalised the amazing occurrence as a sign of angry gods. This was observed as a bad omen: that the people would soon suffer devastation and destruction.
The belief of the early Hellenic’s was that a group of immortal gods and goddesses were the rulers of the world. One of the mythological explanations they held was that the titan Helios, the personification of the sun, would drive his horse-drawn chariot up into the sky every morning – sunrise – and would drive it back down in the evening – sunset.
The moon was almost as important as the sun to the ancient Maya. They told the story of a fierce moon goddess, Ix Chel, who would battle the moon down into the underworld every night, and the sun would rise in its place; hence why you never see both the moon and the sun in the sky at the same time.
Five planets were discovered through the naked eye of stargazing ancient Greeks: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. There are eight planets in total, and all except Earth and Uranus are named after ancient Roman gods (who were based on the original gods of Greek Mythology).
This beautifully speckled and luminary planet is named after the Roman quick-footed messenger god, Mercury (identified as Hermes in Greek Mythology,) since due to its positioning, it is the fastest planet to orbit the sun.
This shining glory, the only planet to be named after a female deity, is named after the goddess Venus, (known in Greek mythology as Aphrodite) as it was the most brilliant planet known to ancient astronomers.
It is a commonly held belief that the planet Mars was named after the Roman god of war (duplicated after the Greek god Ares) because of its red colour, representing bloodshed. The planet’s two small moons were named Phobos and Deimos, after the two horses that the Greek god of war, Ares, used to pull his red chariot.
This gigantic planet with the red spot is 2.5 times larger than all of the other planets combined and is named after the most powerful of the gods, Jupiter (vis-a-vis the Greek god Zeus).
This, the sixth planet from the sun, and adorned with beautiful rings, is the slowest to orbit, which may be why it was named after the Roman god of time, Saturn (counterpart of the Greek Titan Cronus.)
Uranus, with the exception of Earth, is the only planet that was named after a god of Greek mythology, as opposed to Roman. To ancient Hellenic people, Uranus was the primal god personifying the sky. According to myth, he was the grandfather of Jupiter and the father of Saturn.
This frigid planet is the furthest away in orbit of the sun and was only just discovered via mathematical equations in 1846. In keeping with the tradition of planets being named after mythological deities, it was decided that it would be assigned the moniker Neptune, the Roman god of the sea (equivalent to the Greek god Poseidon,) which is likely because of its enormous size and blue colouring.
Ours is the only planet not to be named after ancient stories, but instead was given its title after the Germanic word ‘erde’ or the English word ‘erda’ which means ‘the ground.’ Earth’s official scientific name is the Latin phrase ‘Terra Firma,’ meaning for ‘firm or solid ground:’
If you have ten minutes to spare, this is a fun video explaining how the planets received their names. Don’t forget to follow the creator, Name Explain, on Twitter, if you enjoyed it.
I would love to hear of any mythological stories that you may have been told about the solar system, space, or astronomy, so please let me know in the comments down below!