- Education and Science
Our Solar System Needs A Name!
Why settle for a generic solar system?
A few years back, it occurred to me that our Solar System needs a new name. This personal epiphany came on the heels of the landmark discovery in the early '90's that other stars out there have planetary systems like ours. Until then, the Earth-centric, human-centric designation of The Solar System seemed perfectly reasonable. It was the only one, right? Well, not anymore. The number of confirmed planetary star systems has been multiplying rapidly over the last decade, with an astounding 443 exoplanets discovered as of this month!(March)
It has occurred to me that NASA could make a ton of money for future missions by holding a national or international contest to rename our solar system. Such a contest would generate huge public interest, and millions, maybe billions, could be made from charging a small entry fee. Then it occurred to me that some person or persons at NASA had surely thought of this and considered the idea before now. So why no new name for the Solar System? Probably all sorts of bureaucratic and political reasons, all of which I reject.
Then there is the issue of semantics. My internet research revealed that other stars with planets orbiting them are referred to as planetary systems or star systems, thus the name Solar System is reserved for our system. Yet I have noticed the term "sun" is often used to refer to other stars. So doesn't it follow that the term "solar system" is also generic? Which brings me to another point: the sun needs a better name too.
The Copernican System
Ladies and gentlemen, I submit for your approval the Copernican Solar System, aka the Copernican System. The famed sixteenth century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus made the discovery that the sun is the center of the solar system, rather than the Earth. In Copernicus' time, the Earth was thought to be the center of the universe. His revelation is largely credited with sparking the Scientific Revolution of the Renaissance. It seems entirely fitting that our solar system should bear his name. But what about the sun?
Helios the Sun
Now that the solar system is properly designated as The Copernican System, the sun must have a befitting name as well. It would be logical to dub the sun Copernicus since it is the center of the Copernican System. That would be one way to go. Somehow it seems a bit of a stretch to go from "the sun" to Copernicus. Another logical choice, I believe, would be Helios. Helios was the Greek god of the sun, who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky each day, according to Greek mythology. The term "helio" is already commonly used in reference to the sun. For example, the outer layer of the sun's atmosphere is called the Heliosphere. And Copernicus' theory is referred to as a heliocentric model of the solar system. Either name, Helios or Copernicus, would be a suitable choice, I think. We'll see which sticks.
Luna the Moon
As I write this blog, it occurs to me, for the first time, that the Moon suffers from the same malady of moniker as the sun and the solar system. The term "moon" has traditionally been the common designation for the natural satellites orbiting the various planets in our solar system. As of mid-2009, 336 moons were identified in our solar system, according to Wikipedia. Surely our moon, Earth's one and only, deserves a more distinctive name.
In Roman mythology, Luna was the goddess of the moon. In Greek mythology, the name for the moon goddess was Selene. I am uncertain of the exact pronounciation, although it seems a pretty name. Most English-speaking people are familiar with terms like "lunar eclipse" and "lunar orbit," which reference the moon by its Latin name. For this reason, perhaps Luna is the natural choice. However, there is a potential dilemma. While the name Luna seems special in English, it actually just means "moon" in Italian and Spanish. I'm afraid I haven't quite worked this one out yet.
'Setting' the moon aside for today, I feel quite confident in my new designation of the Copernican Solar System. I am eager to see how it will be received in the blogosphere and beyond.
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