[NB] Planets and the Sun

For some time, I have drawn an intuitive distinction between Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn on the one hand and the Moon, Venus, and Mercury on the other. That fits in fairly neatly with our post-Copernican understanding of the movements of the planets around the sun and of the Earth as the dividing line between these upper and lower heavens. It’s nagged at me, though, whether this might be a strange interposition between traditional astrology that puts the Earth at the center, with all of the planetary heavens above.

Reading Star Gods of the Maya provided me with an answer as to why this contemporary division sits well with traditional understandings of the planets. Mildebrath makes an obvious statement about naked eye astronomy which affirms the division between Jupiter-Mars-Saturn (JMS) and Moon-Venus-Mercury (MVM). Because Venus and Mercury are between us and the Sun, they can sometimes be seen to come between us and the Sun. Similarly, the orbit of the Moon can eclipse the Sun. The JMS planets, though, cannot pass in front of the Sun.

That is a small thing, I know, but it says something about the potencies of MVM planets that they can mediate the relationship between the Sun and the Earth as well as the cosmic potencies that define the outer planets.


3 thoughts on “[NB] Planets and the Sun

  1. This condition — the MMV combo in front of the Sun, the MJS planets behind — is exactly what caused the church to reject the heliocentric model for so long. And for that matter, all of western science from ancient Alexandria and Babylon up to … Well, I was going to say Galileo, but it wasn’t widely accepted until after galileo’s death, even.

    The mathematics of epicycles, designed to track the retrograde motions of Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, worked pretty well up to the invention of telescopes, when observed motion and precision started to misalign with predicted motion; and neither the sun nor the moon needed epicycles: because the earth going around each generates the same mathematical function as the sun and moon going around earth, more or less.

    1. Io

      Oh yes, the epicycles. The story of the actual move from geocentric to heliocentric models is so much more interesting than the triumphalist scientism we usually get. The story of active speculation, novel observations, and technical innovation tells us more about real scientific change. Though I only understood portions of the nuclear science under discussion, I had a similar experience reading Peter Gallison’s Image and Logic. How important those tinkerers and technicians are to developing new ways of thinking!

      1. And also the observers. I mean, Johannes Kepler kept trying to make a grand theory about the movement of the planets based on the Platonic Solids. And in the other direction, Tycho Brahe just kept collecting observations — Not, “what do I want the planets to do?” but “What are the planets doing??” Years of data, maybe decades (I forget), that Kepler basically stole in order to work out the movement of the planets as ellipses.

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