November is a month that starts off rather well — misty soft mornings, blue noontime skies, brightly colored autumn leaves, and a cool clean feeling in the air — but it ends badly with leafless trees, gray skies and freezing rain.
In addition, this November we have a national recession, an unemployment rate that averages over 8 percent, bankers who want to charge you for access to your own money, and half a dozen argumentative Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for the presidency. So we’re turning our attention to the night-time sky. It’s far less depressing.
The brightest star in this November’s night isn’t a star. It’s the planet Jupiter. Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun, our Earth is the third, and as the planets revolve around the sun there come times when we’re between the sun and Jupiter and the sunlight reflected at us from that planet is remarkably bright. This November is one of those times.
Jupiter was named after the Roman king of the gods. Yes, yes, we know you knew that. But did you know the name Jupiter derives from Iove and pater, meaning father Jove? OK, maybe you knew that too, if you remembered your Latin. In any case, this king of the gods planet is not only big (and by big we mean it’s more massive than all the other planets combined) it’s also composed mostly of gas. Frankly, we think it’s fitting that the giant king of the gods turns out to be a gas ball. (OK, maybe we’re more depressed about politics than we knew. )
Jupiter has a lot of moons. Jupiter was an amorous god and astronomers began naming the moons after those he wooed* [That’s an asterisk, indicating a footnote.] Now, that might strike you as sexist — Jupiter encircled by his sexual conquests. If there were more women astronomers, maybe the moons would be named after his children. No matter how many satellites they discover around Jupiter, they won’t run out of names if they choose from among his offspring.
Speaking of names, the name Jupiter was given to the day of the week in Latin that we English speakers call Thursday. That’s why countries whose language derives from Latin, the Romance language nations, call it giovedi (Italian) or jeudi (French) or jueves(Spanish) and so on. Old English, deriving from Anglo-Saxon, imported the Northern god Thor, hence Thursday. I think we can leave this topic now.
*We’re being prissy polite when we use the word woo here. And we’re hiding something when we say “those he loved.” One of the moons is named after Ganymede, a male youth whom Homer called the most beautiful mortal. In fact, Ganymede was so beautiful that Zeus/Jupiter abducted him to serve as cup bearer to the gods on Olympus, where he also served as sexual consort to the king of the gods. On the right is Rubens’ painting of Ganymede being abducted by Zeus who’s taken the form of an eagle. The word catamite is derived from the name Ganymede. You knew that, right?