Our solar system has always been a fascinating source for the ancient Greeks, and outer space is prominent across the scientific, philosophical, and mythological outputs of ancient Greek society.
Ancient Greeks referred to constellations as “katasterismoi”, meaning “locations of the stars”. The Greeks used “location” specifically because they believed that the stars were placed there by the gods.
At the heart of ancient Greek mythology is the belief that the Olympic gods deliberately placed all living beings in the universe so that they can all play a role in the events that take place in the world and the experiences that are drawn from them. This belief is perhaps most famously recalled in Homer’s epic poems The Iliad and the Odyssey.
In many ways, the galaxy is a stage where the myths of the ancient Greeks are carried out. Zodiac signs derived from the Greek “zodiakos kuklos”, meaning “circle of small animals”, are filled with creatures that fought Heracles as part of his work, including the crab force, Taurus, the Cretan bull and the Nemean lion, Leo.
Artemis, the goddess of hunting, is also known by ancient Greek poets as the Lady of the Starry Host for creating so many constellations in the sky – Ursa Major, Corvus and Orion are all credited for being made by Artemis.
The Trojans live on in their namesake asteroids
Astronomers have also honored ancient Greece by naming a class of celestial bodies Trojans after the Trojan War. Trojan horses are small celestial bodies, typically asteroids, that move in the same orbit as larger objects and are thus co-orbital.
The name was invented by Italian-French mathematician and astronomer Joseph-Louis Lagrange in 1772. Since its first discovery, each new trojan is typically named after certain figures from the Trojan War, such as Achilles, Eureka, and Patroclus.
The Trojan asteroids that share the planet Jupiter’s orbit around the sun, known as the Jupiter Trojans, have recently come to attention when NASA launched their Lucy mission on Saturday to study the Jupiter Trojans up close.
The spacecraft will reach the asteroids in 2027 and provide the first in-depth, close-up of the Trojans. Scientists hope that the information gathered from fly-byes will give them a better understanding of the childhood of our solar system.
“I’ve been dreaming of sending a spacecraft to the Trojan asteroids for more than a decade,” said Cathy Olkin, Lucy’s deputy chief investigator Space.com. “This opportunity is just unique.”
Although scientists have identified the Trojan asteroids from Earth, they are unable to derive detailed images of the objects without performing a fly-by mission like Lucy. The information these asteroids could provide would potentially revolutionize scientists’ understanding of how the Milky Way formed, and help put together the reasons why certain planets have formed in regions of the galaxy that seem inexplicable.