Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Sun? Sol? Helios? Which is Correct?

The above image, a circle with a dot in the center, is the symbol for the Sun, our home star.

What do we call that bright yellow thing in our sky? Well, in English-speaking countries we call it the Sun. That word is actually a proper noun, so it should be capitalized. It developed from the Old English 'sunne' and may be related to "south." This would seem logical since, from the point of view of most northern-hemisphere cultures, the Sun moves across the southern half of the sky. Several Germanic languages also have similar derivations of the word. Sun is the basis of English words such as Sunday, sunrise, sunset, sunflowers, and many, many others.

In the Ancient Greek mythology, the personification of the sun was Helios. He was envisioned as a handsome god who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky each day. In some ancient writings Helios is associated with Apollo. In any case, Helio is the basis for words such as heliocentric, heliostat, aphelion, perihelion, spectroheliograph, and others.

In the Ancient Roman religion, the god of the sun was Sol. And the Old Norse mythology had Sól, goddess of the sun. Sol is the basis for words such as solar, solstice, solarium, and others.

But which name is correct? Well, none of them and all of them. You see, we don't have an official name for our home star. But when we use the names Sun, Helios and Sol, we all seem to know what we are talking about. So that works. At least, for now. Who knows? Maybe someday we will give our star an official name. What do you think about Bob?...

To learn more about the sun and to stay current on solar activity, visit the mission home pages of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov .


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