So here’s an interesting little fact. In Chinese and Japanese, Jupiter is known as 木星 which means “wood star” – and I think that’s a wonderful name for it!
Interestingly, the name is pure coincidence. Just as our name for the planet originated in Ancient Rome, in East Asia the name originated in Ancient China.
Chinese mythology contains the Wu Xing (五行) or five elements – wood (木), fire (火), earth (土), metal (金), and water (水). Because the ancient Chinese Astronomers could see five planets moving through the sky, they named them after these elements.
Mercury is 水星, the water star,
Venus is 金星, the metal star,
Mars is 火星, the fire star,
Jupiter is 木星, the wood star, and
Saturn is 土星, the earth star.
So rooted are the five elements in East Asian culture that together with the sun and moon (日 and 月) the days of the week are still named after them.
Exactly why they were named this way, I don’t know. Logically, Mercury is fast like running water, and Mars looks fiery red to the naked eye. Venus shines brightest like polished metal, Jupiter has a faint wooden orange hue, and Saturn is the slowest and most stable, like earth. But that’s speculation on my part, and I should really read more about it.
All the same, by accident or by design, Jupiter is the wooden star. Which is just so incredibly fitting because that’s exactly how it looks. I love the gorgeous swirling clouds this planet has, and I’m looking forward to some breathtaking high resolution images from Juno soon.
But whenever I look at Jupiter I still get a first impression of polished wood.
See what I mean?