The Naming Game : Moon Edition

What are moons? Moons are satellites that orbit around a planet. So, technically they'd be 'natural satellites of the planets' because "Moon" is just one, but, practically, don't we all just call them "moons"?! Currently, there are over 200 moons in our Solar System, and that's excluding the ones orbiting the dwarf or minor planets. 

Some moons have atmospheres, some have volcanic activities going on them and some even have oceans. Some moons orbit in direction of the rotation of planet and some orbit in opposite direction. But do you know how or what they are named?

The official names of celestial bodies are taken care of by the International Astronomical Union. Most of them are named after Greek and Roman mythology characters, but some are also named after literary characters.

While Mercury and Venus don't have any moons, our moon has many different names in different languages. The word "Moon" was named after two Latin words meaning 'to measure' and 'month'.

Mars, named after the Greek mythological God of war, Ares, has two moons -  Phobos and Deimos - named after the sons of Ares meaning 'fear' and 'dread'.

Jupiter has a plethora - 53 named moons and 26 unnamed ones. The planet is named after the Greek God, Zeus, and its moons are named after his lovers or descendants. Galileo first discovered the moons of Jupiter and hence the four biggest moons - Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa - are called the Galilean moons.

Saturn has such a large family of moons - around 82 which we know of - that there was a shortage for names. They were named after the Titans (children of Greek Gods Uranus and Gaia) and their descendants, but are now named also after the giants of the Norse, Gallic and Inuit mythology.

Uranus has 27 moons and they are named after Shakespeare's characters. A few are named after Alexander Pope's characters. Look them up to know if your favorite character made the cut; the maximum number coming from 'The Tempest'.

And finally, Neptune has 14 moons. Neptune, named after the Roman God of sea has its moons named after other Roman and Greek sea gods and nymphs.

Moons that are yet to be confirmed are named with a letter and year. 

Images : (1) Kevin Gill on Flickr. (2) Hubble. (3) Adobe Stock.

Shivangi Sharan is a second year PhD student at the Laboratory of Planetology and Geodynamics in France. Her research focusses on the study of the magnetic field of Mars and to infer its internal structure from it. She is an active member of the IAGA Blog Team and can be contacted via e-mail here.



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