Dear Science: How did the planets get their names? - Deepstash
Dear Science: How did the planets get their names?

Dear Science: How did the planets get their names?

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Where the names of the planets came from

Where the names of the planets came from

Sumerian astronomers named the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn after their gods. Ancient China named planets after things of nature, like water, fire, or wood. The English names for planets came from the Romans, who named them after their gods and goddesses.

More distant planets were generally titled by the people who found them. They continue with historical trends by naming planets after ancient Greek and Roman gods.


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Naming parameters

These days, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has more creative rules for naming new planets.

Broadly, planetary names mirror the identity of the planet: The features of Venus are named after women. The parts of the Martian moon Deimos get their names from authors who wrote about Mars. Some of the naming schemes are playful: Craters on the asteroid Gaspra are named after spas of the world.


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Stars are not named after people

  • It's very uncommon to name a celestial body after people. Only prominent scientists who have passed away are given that honour.
  • Stars in named constellations and visible to the naked eye are given a letter of the Greek alphabet according to their position in the constellation. The brightest star in Cygnus is Alpha Cygni; the next is Beta Cygni, etc. 
  • With the reported 2 trillion galaxies, the IAU has settled on giving every star a number.


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