Space objects & their mythological names

Moons in our solar system - Carmen Gloria

I have always been interested in space. It is not a topic I volunteer to simply begin a conversation about because I’ve realized not many people are as interested, but lately I’ve found more and more people at least curious, and that’s fun. I’ve read and learned more over the years, watching Cosmos and other space shows, obsessed with sci-fi and space films, and always wondered why space objects are named after mythological figures, except for the moons of Uranus, which are named after characters in William Shakespeare’s plays. I didn’t make the time to find out until recently, while doing the research for my upcoming children’s book The Moon Show. 

Writing this book and learning about our solar system’s other moons besides our Moon has been fun and an eye-opener, so I thought I’d share a few fun facts here with you.

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about Earth’s Moon (our Moon) lately. The Artemis Program is a spaceflight program by NASA, along with international partners, created with the goal of landing “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon, specifically at the lunar south pole region by 2024. NASA sees Artemis as the next step towards the long-term goal of establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon, laying the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy, and eventually sending humans to Mars. The first round of lunar missions were named Apollo, which in Greek mythology, is the Olympian god of the Sun, music and healing. The goddess Artemis is the twin of Apollo, and she is the goddess of the hunt, wilderness (and sometimes of the Moon).

If all goes well on the Moon, then we can take it further and farther away, to the next best place, planet Mars. That is the current goal.  

Here’s a NASA video with some info. ~ https://www.nasa.gov/specials/apollo50th/back.html

Our Moon is a rock with dust, and no resources were found on it for many years. With new technology though, moon samples that were collected in the Apollo missions have shown scientists new discoveries, including the potential of ice water on the north and south poles of the Moon, water being the most important resource needed to live there. 

Another interesting fact is that the first two planets closest to the sun, Mercury and Venus, do not have moons. All the other planets in our solar system do.

Our Moon is the only moon in our solar system not named after a mythological figure, besides the moons of Uranus. The word “moon” can be traced back to Old English, where it is said to have derived from the Proto-Germanic word “menon”, which in turn derived from the Proto-Indo-European “menses”, meaning “month, moon.”

Then is Mars, which has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. In Roman mythology, Mars is the god of war, Phobos the Greek god of chaos and fear, and Deimos the greek god of terror and panic. Phobos and Deimos are non circular-shaped because they don’t have enough mass to gravitationally pull themselves into a spherical shape.

Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, used to have the most moons up until a few weeks ago, when 20 new moons of Saturn were discovered. Jupiter now has 79 moons, and Saturn has 82. The four largest moons of Jupiter – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – are also called Galilean moons because they were discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1609. Jupiter’s moons are named after the lovers of king Jupiter, the Roman god of the gods, and of sky and thunder (Zeus in Greek mythology). Saturn, named after the Roman god of agriculture and harvest, has a few popular moons including Titan and Enceladus. Enceladus was a giant in Greek mythology and Titan is named for mythological Titans, the brothers and sisters of Saturn.

Then there are the last two planets, the ice giants, Uranus, which has 27 moons, and Neptune, which has 14 moons and are named for minor water deities in Greek mythology. Uranus’ moons are named after characters in William Shakespeare’s plays. How fun!

There are about 170 moons in our solar system and it is the International Astronomical Union (IAU) which is responsible for naming celestial bodies.

Historically it is still not quite clear how moons and planets started being named after mythological figures, but it is said that a mechanical engineer that was crucial in transforming NACA into NASA in 1958, Abe Silverstein, named Apollo and Project Mercury after perusing a book of mythology. Never know where inspiration will come from, huh?

I am excited to share some of these and other facts, and positive outlooks, with children in my Kid Astronomy book series. With this Mars Generation, I believe it’s important to inspire children to learn and gain interest in space, already thinking towards jobs of the future, to develop curiosity, and to strive to be their best selves. I hope I get to do at least a little of that with the series. 

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CARMEN GLORIA was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, now a veteran, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Politics from George Mason University. She is a member of SCBWI, SAG/AFTRA & The American Legion, and is a writer, artist, award-winning actress, short film producer/writer/director, and even co-wrote 2 songs in the Billboard Dance and UK Pop charts. After moving to Norway in 2017, she has been writing and published her children's book Kid Astronomy series with Uncommon Grammar. Carmen is also recurring as Sofia in the Norwegian TV series "Det Kunne Vært Verre" via TV Norge, currently on its second season.
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