Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Speaking of Science: Over the moons

Speaking of Science
Talk nerdy to us

The shadow of the Jovian moon Ganymede in the center of the stormy Great Red Spot. (NASA/ESA/AFP/Getty Images)

The number of Jupiter's moons is up to 79 and counting, astronomers announced this week. One of them has a strange orbit — the satellite travels against the flow of its neighboring moons. For that reason headlines have described the moon as an oddity, oddball and a weirdo.

The odd moon already has a name: Valetudo, who in Roman mythology was a goddess of personal health and one of Jupiter's many descendants. Astronomer and moon-finder Scott Sheppard told Vox that the name was a tribute to his girlfriend, who is, he said, "very cleanly."

For a goddess of cleanliness, Valetudo has a relatively muddled origin. In one depiction on an early Roman coin, she was the translation of the Greek goddess Hygieia into the Roman pantheon. But she shared that coin with Salus, another goddess of hygiene and well-being, who later took on Hygieia's characteristics.

Also, as one reader pointed out, in Portuguese "vale tudo" means "anything goes." It's also come to mean a chaotic Brazilian martial art. (A 1997 Los Angeles Times article, on the origin of mixed martial arts, described vale tudo as "no-holds-barred tournaments" popular in Japan and Brazil.) The violent connotation is fitting, too — because this Jovian moon orbits against the grain, Valetudo could possibly smash into its neighbors.


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