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Mythology and Man's Early Musings

To early humans, stars appeared simply as bright points of light in the night sky. The stars didn't seem to have any dimensions, and the sky looked like a tapestry. The ancient Egyptians thought of the sky as a vast canopy supported by the mountains of the four corners of Earth. The stars were sprinkled on the canopy --- so close you could almost touch them if only you could climb high enough.

People noticed that the night sky changed constantly, and some of these bright lights moved in a different way than others. Some moved faster and sometimes they seemed to move backward in the heavens.

Solar System Montage
Solar System Montage

These moving points of light became known as "planets," from the Greek word for "wanderer." It would be hundreds of years before astronomers understood that all the planets orbit the Sun.

One of the planets was very bright and dominated the night sky. Depending on where they lived, people had different names for it. European astronomers accepted the ancient Roman names for the visible planets. And so, we call this planet Jupiter, for the powerful Roman god of the sky.

Indeed, Jupiter is the king of planets in our Solar System. Larger than any of the other planets, it is also larger than all the other planets combined.

Next: Galileo's First Sightings Next

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Last Updated: 28 Jun 2010