Thursday, August 18, 2011


The brilliant planet Jupiter is currently visible rising in the east during the night, in close proximity to the rising of the moon, for viewers in the northern hemisphere (for those in the southern hemisphere, see the link below).

At a latitude of about 35° north, Jupiter rises at 11 pm on Friday, August 19, and rises about three to five minutes earlier each night. At the same latitude, the moon rises at 10:38 pm on the same night, and then proceeds to rise around forty to fifty minutes later each evening (the reason for the moon's later rising each evening is described here).

Jupiter travels along the ecliptic path and reaches its highest point in the sky, in a generally southerly direction from the observer in the northern hemisphere, at about 5:45 in the morning on the same night quoted above (which would be early Saturday morning, August 20).

The planet Jupiter is very bright and pretty much unmistakeable if you are looking in the correct direction and have a good idea of the constellations that should be visible in that direction.

Here is an article from Sky & Telescope which contains an illustration of the sky around midnight looking to the east in the northern hemisphere and shows where to find the planet Jupiter in relation to the moon and the Pleiades on the nights of August 19, 20, and 21 (scroll down for the illustration).

If you happen to be observing from the southern hemisphere, this post from the Astroblog of Ian Musgrave shows the orientation of the sky with Jupiter as seen from Adelaide, Australia (where the planet Jupiter rises at around 3:45 am).

As we have seen in previous posts (for example, here and here), there is strong evidence that the ancient gods were named after the planets, rather than the planets being named after ancient gods. This was an important part of the thesis put forward by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in Hamlet's Mill. They argued that the myths about Jupiter (or Zeus in the Greek mythology, and Marduk in the ancient Mesopotamian epics, just as Saturn was Kronos in Greece and Enki in Mesopotamia) somehow encoded important information about the orbit of the brilliant planet that you can see in the sky this week, the largest in the solar system.

For example, they noted the many mythological traditions in which Saturn "gives the measures" to Jupiter, and somehow "retires" from the scene to allow Jupiter to reign supreme over the rest of the gods. Saturn is an extremely important figure in the myths of cultures around the world, and is almost always associated with a lost "Golden Age" as well as with giving the standards of measurement of time and distance, perhaps because it is the farthest planet that can be seen with the naked eye and thus travels most closely to the "celestial sphere" of the fixed stars, as well as because its orbital period around the sun is the longest of the visible planets -- thirty years (this previous post discusses evidence that many ancient cultures celebrated a "jubilee" year in the thirtieth year of a reigning king or pharaoh, which is almost certainly related to the orbital period of Saturn).

De Santillana and von Dechend believe that the abdication of Saturn into voluntary retirement, and the succession to power by Jupiter is related in some mysterious way to the phenomenon of precession, and specifically its slow delay of the constellation Orion, who is associated with Osiris in ancient Egypt and with a god-king who once dwelt among men and ruled over a lost "Golden Age" (see Hamlet's Mill 286, for instance). And yet he still manages to "give the measures" to Jupiter, perhaps by virtue of the periodic conjunctions of the two planets which repeat in a systematic manner throughout the ages and move through the entire zodiac in a period that is fairly close to the duration of a single precessional "age" (see Hamlet's Mill 268).

The planets were clearly associated with measuring out time (see this previous post for some further discussion of that concept). De Santillana and von Dechend note that ancient myth seems to differentiate the manner in which different planets measure out time. Mercury, for instance, appears to measure out time with a stylus or writing instrument, which is connected with his role as messenger of the gods (an appropriate role, as his orbit around the sun takes only 88 days, as opposed to Jupiter's twelve years and Saturn's thirty). Jupiter appears to measure by "throwing" and Saturn by "falling" (hence the mythical attribution of the throwing of thunderbolts to Jupiter or Zeus, and the mythical connection between Saturn who was "cast down" or fell to an obscure island and Phaethon, who fell from the chariot of the sun, and was in fact struck down by the thunderbolts of Zeus in most accounts as well -- see Hamlet's Mill page 271).

Finally, one other interesting aspect of the mythical Jupiter (whose myths encode important facts about the astronomical Jupiter) is the connection of his Greek and Latin names. Some classical historians have noted that it is quite probable that Jupiter's name in Latin is directly related to his Greek name, Zeus. In Latin, the word for "father" is pater. Some linguists believe the word Jupiter is descended from Zeus pater ("father Zeus") or from Iou pater (the first name being rendered sometimes as "Jove" when the "u" is pronounced as a "v").

Some have also argued that the linguistics of this name may be connected to the name of Noah's son Japheth, who along with Shem and Ham were the fathers of all the different families of man after the flood according to the sacred Hebrew Scriptures.

Armed with this understanding of the connections between the planet Jupiter and the astronomical information about Jupiter that is preserved in ancient myths, be sure to get outside and marvel at this majestic planet in the night sky this week.