Since the beginning of our time on Earth, mankind has been in awe of the universe that surrounds him. Even modern man, with his knowledge about the planets and stars, is still intrigued and filled with wonder at the sight of the millions of stars that fill the night sky. We can only imagine what thoughts filled the minds of the earliest people on earth as they looked up at the unknown world above them. As time moved forward, mankind observed the characteristics and movements of the planets, and formed his own ideas about the universe.
The planet Mercury is the closest to the Sun and has been recognized at least since 3,000 B.C. Romans assigned Mercury as the god of travel and thievery, while the Greeks assigned two gods to the planet, Apollo for the morning star, and Hermes for the evening star. It is thought that Mercury was named for travel because of the quick movement of the planet across the evening sky
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, and has been recognized since prehistoric times. It is similar to Mercury in that it has a morning and evening star. The Greeks considered Venus to be the goddess Aphrodite, while the Babylonians referred to the planet as Ishtar, both goddesses being in charge of love and beauty. The planet was probably named this because it is one of the brightest objects in the sky, next to the Sun and the Moon (Arnett, B.).
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and it was not until the 1500’s that Earth was actually recognized as being “just another planet”. It is the only planet that does not have a name derived from Greek or Roman mythology, but it was assigned a goddess; in Roman mythology, the goddess of Earth was Tellus, meaning “the fertile soil” and in Greek mythology, the goddess was Gaia, meaning “mother earth” (Arnett, B.) In all fairness, Earth is far from being just another
planet. After all, as far as we know at this point in time, it is the only known planet that has ever supported life, and it has given rise to a species that is able to wonder if there are other planets out there with beings like ourselves living on it.
Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, and like Venus, it has been recognized since prehistoric times. The Romans named Mars the god of agriculture, and the Greek name for Mars was Ares, who was the god of war. Most likely the Greeks associated Mars with war because of its red color. Mars still ignites our imaginations when it comes to the question of life existing outside of our own planet. It is known that fluid once existed on Mars, because of erosion patterns left behind on the planet’s surface. A limited amount of testing has been done in the search for extraterrestrial life on Mars, and it is expected that more experiments will continue in order to search for the answer (Arnett, B.).
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun, and is by far the largest planet. It has twice the mass of every planet in our solar system combined. It has been recognized since prehistoric times and was known as the king of all gods, called Jupiter by the Romans, and Zeus by the Greeks. Jupiter is the fourth brightest object in the sky and is known as a “wandering star” (Arnett, B.).
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun, and has also been recognized since prehistoric times. In Roman mythology, Saturn is the god of agriculture and in Greek mythology, Saturn is known as Cronus, the father of Zeus (Arnett, B.).
Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun. Discovered in 1781, it was the first planet to be recognized in modern times. Initially, the planet was named “the Georgian Sidus”, after King George III, of England, but was later changed to Uranus, in line with the mythological names of all
the other planets. Uranus was a Greek god, considered to be an ancient supreme god of the
heavens, existing before all of the other Greek gods (Arnett, B.).
Neptune is the eighth planet from the Sun, and was also found in modern times, officially in 1846. After the discovery of Uranus and the observation that something was strange about it’s orbit, it was predicted that there was a planet that was causing the effect. Like Uranus, the new planet was named in accordance with mythology, receiving the Roman name of Neptune, god of the sea (Arnett, B.).
Pluto was the ninth planet from the Sun; however, it has recently been demoted to a “dwarf planet” and is no longer considered to be a regular planet. It was only discovered in 1930 and was named after the Roman god of the underworld. It is thought this name was chosen due to the fact that it exists in total darkness, as it is too far from the Sun to receive any light (Arnett, B.).
It is obvious that mankind’s fascination with the universe has not been limited to prehistoric times. We still thirst for knowledge to know how these planets were formed, what they are made of and why each has the distinguishing characteristics they have. Most of all, we have a desire to find out more about ourselves, by trying to determine if our existence is unique, or common to the universe.