Question: We’re studying astronomy in my high school science class, and learning the names of the other planets’ moons. They all seem to have names from mythology, so my question is: What is the “real” name of Earth’s moon? Or is it just “the moon” or “The Moon” or something else? — RK, Brooklyn, NY
Answer: There’s definitely some confusion about this, so I’ll try to clear things up for you. But first a little background info. Official astronomical names are decided by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Before the IAU came into existence in 1919, astronomers generally named their discoveries whatever they wanted — within certain guidelines.
The rules varied depending on what type of object was discovered. Comets get their discoverer’s name. Naming asteroids is a bit more complicated. But planets and moons are generally given names from mythology, as you learned in class. Initially names were drawn from Greek and Roman mythology, but as more and more objects were discovered, and they literally ran out of names, mythologies from other cultures were accepted. For example, the Kuiper Belt object Quaoar is named for a Native American deity.
For millennia the only moon known was the ...