Where does the name of our galaxy, the Milky Way, come from?

Antoine Ducarre

Our galaxy is called the Milky Way, it is several billion years old, but do you know where its name comes from? We tell you all about the origin of its appellation.

Our planet, Earth, is the third in the solar system, which is located in one of the arms of our galaxy, the Milky Way, about 26,000 light years from its center, where there is a supermassive black hole. But do you know the origin of the name of our galaxy? Between myths and legends of civilizations that have disappeared today, that’s all you need to know about how humanity named this giant star cluster that we’ve taken up residence in.

The Milky Way and Antiquity

Whether it is Roman or Greek mythology, the versions are identical. Only the names change. Zeus (Jupiter), king of Olympus and father of the demigod Herakles (Hercules) wanted to make his bastard son immortal. To achieve this, he had to die Heracles from the queen of Olympus, Hera (Juno). Adamantly refusing to do so of her own free will since Zeus had fathered this child with a mortal, she was almost forced to do so when her husband brought the starving baby while she slept. The latter approached the sleeping goddess for food. But when the child had begun to drink the milk, Hera awoke and snatched the child from her breast. It was then that a spurt of milk escaped from the breast of the queen of the gods of Olympus and came to water the night sky and created a whitish trail, the Milky Way.

Regarding the etymology of the name “Milky Way”, it is necessary to refer to Latin and therefore also to ancient Greek. Take effect, in Latin”Via Lactea is borrowed from Greek”galaxy binoculars means “galactic circle” Where “milky circle“. The name “road” was preferred because it is the visible part of our galaxy that looks like a highway.

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Illustration of Hera from the 20th century. According to Greek mythology, it was from her womb that the Milky Way was born. clu/GETTY_IMAGES

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The Milky Way and Native Americans

On the side of Native American folklore and culture, The Milky Way is a route that the souls of the dead take to their afterlife. For the Navajo, an indigenous people of North America, our galaxy and its billions of stars are work Two gods in particular: Coyote (Ma’ii), a god representing impatience and madness, and the Black God (Hashch’éshjhiní), the inventor god of fire.

In Native American mythology, it is therefore explained that the black god had set out to place all the stars that make up our sky. Coyote, who wanted to help, was able to place his star and participate in the creation of the universe. But impatient to see the final result and tired of having to wait with nothing to do in the meantime, he took the bag of crystal from which the stars came and threw it, creating a giant spatial mess which will therefore become one of the most organized chaos with the appearance of the Milky Way.

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The Milky Way in Asian Culture

In the Land of the Rising Sun, the creation of the Milky Way is celebrated every year in early July or August on the occasion of Party tabanata or “star party”. On the other side of the sea, to the west, is the “star party”. also celebrated in China, Qixi. To understand the origin of this festival, you have to look at a legend shared by the Chinese and Japanese.

It is, like many stories that mix men and gods, a love story. This one features a weaving goddess, Orihime, and a mortal shepherd, Altaïr. In love with the bull driver, the goddess decides to leave her divine territory to live her life with her beloved. But the parents of the goddess did not take kindly to this relationship and went to recover her from the hands of her lover. Altaïr, determined to find his goddess wife, therefore searches for her. But to hinder her progress towards the Heavenly Realm, the parents of the Weaver Goddess created an impassable river between Earth and the Heavenly Realm.

This river, you will understand, is the visible part of our galaxy from Earth. A firmament composed of billions of stars, which would therefore only be a simple boundary between mortals and gods. Out of mercy, the gods allow the two lovers to meet only once a year, at the beginning of the 7th or 8th month each year, the date on which the star festival is therefore celebrated.

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The visible part of the Milky Way, the impassable river that prevents Altaïr from reaching Orihime Felix Mittermeier / PEXELS

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The Milky Way and science

We now know that our The Milky Way was born shortly after the universe 13.8 billion years ago during the Big Bang. If these legends offer us a fictionalized version of its creation, we know that our home is the result of the accumulation of gas and dust around the black hole, which is at the center.

These same dusts and gases are themselves responsible for the creation of stars and planets, including ours, Earth and even more, responsible for our presence and our existence.

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