Today I worked with students studying the mythology of ancient Greece and then with a student studying astrobiology. You wouldn’t think there would be much of a connection, aside from the names of the planets, would you? Now I do admit that I have a bit of a predilection for threading topics together with connections as thin as spider’s filament, but don’t you think these coincidences would make good openers for some science fiction stories?
Venus, the goddess of love and beauty was married to Vulcan, the god of smiths and volcanoes, though she was always in love with Mars, the god of war. Beneath the shining clouds of the morning star the planet Venus hides masses of active volcanoes on its hellishly hot surface.
Jupiter was well known for his amorous affairs and his jealous wife, Juno. One of them was Io. Poor Io. Jupiter changed her into a sweet white calf to hide her from his wife, but Juno wasn’t fooled and spent several legends torturing the poor girl. Io, the moon of Jupiter, is so stressed and heated by the tidal forces of it’s parent planet that the whole moon has literally been turned inside out over years of volcanic activity. And this poor little moon is so small it can’t even keep hold of the atmosphere the volcanoes produce. I suppose Io, the tortured little cow, could commiserate.
Europa was another of Jupiter’s loves. Jupiter changed himself into a beautiful white bull, the legend says. Europa, playing with her maidens on a North African beach, was so entranced that she jumped on the animal’s back, at which point the bull charged into the sea. They crossed the Mediterranean and emerged from the ocean onto the continent that bears her name – thus the lady on the bull gracing the Belgian Euro in 2004. Europa, the Jovian moon, is completely covered by a liquid ocean, possibly more ocean water, by volume than exists on Earth, encrusted completely with a miles thick layer of ice.
O.K. here is just one more, perhaps a bit of a stretch. Pluto, the god of the underworld, was essentially god of his own mirror image world of the dead. Pluto is miniscule, not even fully designated a planet anymore. However, I just learned that this little body has it’s own system of three moons orbiting around it. For some reason I had no trouble absorbing Jupiter’s system of sixty some odd moons, or any of the other gas giants' large collections of satellites. But somehow Pluto, so far away and cold, barely bigger than a moon itself, just didn’t seem they type. And yet there it is, locked in a tidal dance with Charon, a moon half Pluto’s size, the two bodies face each other and whirl around an invisible center. Outside of their self-absorbed gaze, two other little moons flit around them, like cold ghostly fairies shades.