seeking name for giant streak in the sky that doesn't sound as stupid as "giant streak in the sky"
February 4, 2011 11:23 PM   Subscribe

People are living on an Earthlike planet with rings like Saturn a la this youtube video. What would they call this streak in the sky?

Their civilization has evolved on this planet and they have had these rings for the entire run of their civilization, therefore they named these rings before they knew they were rings-- they were just a big streak in the sky that gets thinner or thicker on different parts of the planet.

I'm open to anything-- made up words, portmanteaus, repurposed English words, whatever.

If it's not obvious, it's for a fantasy novel.
posted by NoraReed to Writing & Language (47 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm thinking it would something analogous to the Milky Way ... maybe the Dark Skyway?
posted by nomis at 11:42 PM on February 4, 2011

How about skyline?
posted by Fezzer at 11:44 PM on February 4, 2011

Silver River
posted by mqk at 11:47 PM on February 4, 2011

For a lark, you could make the rings yellow with distinct layers and have your denizens call them (with complete seriousness and reverence) the Golden Arches.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:00 AM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd suggest "[God's] Ribbon" or "[God's] Ring" (with "God" being someone from your hypothetical planet's own ancient mythology -- similar to how our constellations and other sky phenomena are named)
posted by amyms at 12:05 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Given religious inclinations since the dawn of history, I would imagine a significant number of civilizations would refer to the streak as a "Road of the Gods" in some form or another. If it's a polytheistic civilization like ancient Rome, you might see something like "Hermes' Path" while a monotheistic civilization might call it "God's Way." Some civilizations may actually refer to the rings as a deity themselves much like sun-worship.

If religious beliefs are inconvenient, then whoever the founding ruler of a civilization is or the greatest and most fondly remembered ancient ruler would likely lay claim to something like "The Crown of Great King Chewbacca" or "Queen Leia's Scepter"

Anything named in ancient times before telescopes would have been invented to discover that these were rings would almost certainly be attributed to something beyond their comprehension.
posted by Saydur at 12:09 AM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

The darks but I tend to agree with amyms and Saydur that they would be named after gods or royalty or any combination of the following words

sky dance darks spirits gods star belt path dead

eg: dead sky, star darks, path of the dead
posted by b33j at 1:14 AM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: As the video points out, it'd have different appearance at different latitudes, so I expect it'd have different names. And at night, you'd be able to watch the Earth's shadow sweep across it, which would be an interesting additional timekeeping cue for early people.

Also some parts of the Earth would have fairly regular, prolonged solar eclipses in winter as the Sun goes behind the rings. Seasons in those regions might be pretty weird, if the rings are dense enough to block much light.

Think about how people on Earth have named other heavenly objects, like the Moon. Many civilizations have described the Moon as a god; some haven't.

Random thoughts: The Arch. A basket-handle, with the Earth as a basket. A bent branch holding up the tent of the sky. Or perhaps it's the flat disk on which the Sun moves as it circles the Earth. (The rings would presumably be coplanar with the moon or any other natural satellites of the Earth, which would mean they wouldn't be coplanar with the Sun's apparent path unless your Earth has no axial tilt— but I don't think this would prevent people from imagining that it's what holds the Sun up anyway.)
posted by hattifattener at 1:31 AM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I disagree. I don't think it would be named after a god or gods. It would be a major feature in the sky like the sun and moon and neither of those are named after gods (although they were revered as gods at many times in history.)

If the earth had had rings, by now we would have refered to them with a one syllable word, like sun or moon or star. Syl? Mar? Soom? Anything will do, really.
posted by Sourisnoire at 1:34 AM on February 5, 2011

Sourisnoire beat me to it: whatever it is, it would be a simple, primitive word, like sun, moon, star etc. Look up translations for those words in different languages and you'll find that most of them are pretty simple as well.

If the Earth had rings, it would have been a very ancient phenomenon, and probably associated with the supernatural and divinity (as the sun and moon are) and would be given a simple name.

The latitude-change-effect probably won't affect naming too much, except in primitive and isolated cultures. Other cultures, that have travelled and spanned latitudes would likely have noticed the change in the ring's appearance, and that would only give an attached personification to the ring (it exposes itself differently to different peoples).

Of course, assuming your planet has numerous different civilizations, there will no doubt be dozens of different names for the ring, depending on the civilization (and whether or not they consider the appearance of the ring as fixed). So don't stick to a single name. The moon is luna is chandra is tsuki.

tl;dr: short, simple name like Sleen, Cov, Rinn, etc.
posted by Senza Volto at 1:52 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you think that as the earth rotated through the day, that the rings would cause a false twilight? Or would the rings just glow more strongly as the sun passed behind them? By the looks of Saturn, the rings are dense enough to throw a shadow, and therefore prevent light going through. Perhaps that darkness in the middle of the day (or morning or afternoon, depending on the season) would affect the naming: The darlight... (for dark) Marlight (for marring), molight (for moving light, though the light moves around it, so maybe the modark). Do you think fish would feed more energetically at the time, like they do at dawn and dusk? Would a simple people see that as significant? Do the birds and other creatures sleep at this false dusk, could it be called the little death (yes, I know that's a synonym for orgasm).

How quickly would the sun move past this obstacle - like the fast brightness of the sun peeking out behind a moving cloud, or slowly and steadily, like dawn and dusk?
posted by b33j at 1:58 AM on February 5, 2011

Arches. They'd think they lived on a flat surface, so they would have called them arches, not rings.
posted by orthogonality at 2:09 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind this would be a permanent feature of the sky that's always been there. The sun is called the sun. The moon is called the moon. They have similarly unanalysable names in other languages. So you're likely to get something like Sun, Moon and Ress, where "Ress" is just what that thing is called.

Sometimes they get descriptive nicknames as well: the moon is called levana "the white" in Hebrew, the sun is called matahari "day's eye" in Indonesian.

In addition to path and bridge metaphors, they might think of it as dividing the sky (or the world) into two parts, so something like "the cleft" might work as name for it (even as a translation of an unanalysable name) if they conceive of it that way.

You could tell time with this thing as well, since you could see the earth's shadow moving across it at night. So descriptive names like "time path" or "day path" would be possible. "Day path is rising" would mean "it's getting closer to dawn" in the wee hours the morning (you'd see that before it started getting light in the east). "Day path is setting" would mean "it's getting late at night" in the evening.
posted by nangar at 2:16 AM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: I'd steal one of the names that the Milky Way gets called. The Birds' Path has a nice sound to it, but so does The Silver River.
posted by Kattullus at 2:36 AM on February 5, 2011

What b33j said is neat. At certain times of day, at in the winter, depending on latitude, the sun would pass behind the rings. I'd think the rings themselves would appear especially brilliant, but there'd be twilight. You'd notice it even when it was cloudy, because it would temporarily get darker. You could call it "cleft light," maybe.
posted by nangar at 2:43 AM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: Sourisnoire and Senza Volto raise good points -- an ancient sky object like that would have a suitably primitive name. I'd go with arc, since that's the shape it looks like from most of the world. Just pretend geometric arcs and arches are derived from the word for the ring, since that term would necessarily predate geometry and architecture.

Also, while the ring might be called different things by different cultures based on its local appearance, the reverse might also be true -- different lands and people might get named after what the ring looks like where they are. Kind of like how the names of various regions on Earth are derived from terms like "Land of the Rising Sun" and such. So equatorial people might be "arcliners" and polar ones "arcwallers."
posted by Rhaomi at 2:46 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

OK, up way to early in eastern North America. A one-word suggestion: Iris.
posted by nangar at 2:51 AM on February 5, 2011

It makes sense that they would name it after something real that looked similar, so maybe just The Bow? Or their ancient language version of that word (I think "arc" comes from the Latin word for a bow). It could be nicknamed The Milky Bow.

It looks a bit like an enormous, permanent rainbow too, so they probably call rainbows something like Bow Children.
posted by lucidium at 4:06 AM on February 5, 2011

neither of those are named after gods

Well, sort of. "Moon" seems to be derived from earlier words meaning "month." You can still sort of see the connection there. The Latin is "mensis", and the medical community still uses "menses" to refer to a woman's period.

But "lunar," is derived from the Latin "Luna," which was the Roman instantiation of the Greek goddess Selene. We now use that primarily as an adjective, but it hasn't completely disappeared.

Similarly, "sun" has no particular mythological meaning, but it's proper name, "Sol," is derived from the Latin and was the name of a sun god. "Sun" is actually still translated "sol" in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.

Just because we've forgotten what words mean doesn't mean that there aren't mythological meanings associated with them.
posted by valkyryn at 4:14 AM on February 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think it really would depend on where you happened to live, particularly on whether your location spent a decent amount of time in shadow from the rings. If you look at the video you can see that certain parts of the globe spend a lot of time deep in shadow, basically the tropical regions. So a good chunk of some of the world's most desirable real estate wouldn't have a proper day for six months out of the year.

I don't want to think about what effect that would have had on agricultural development.
posted by valkyryn at 4:20 AM on February 5, 2011

I agree with Rhaomi, though I'd go with Arkh because of the bonus 'ark' imagery.
posted by fix at 4:30 AM on February 5, 2011

I don't think it's necessary to give it a short primitive name. They presumably haven't evolved to speak English and so the story is a "translation". So for all we know "road of the spirits" or "bow of the hunter-god" is "ba" in their language. Their language might have a complex system of intonations that lets short words have great meaning.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:07 AM on February 5, 2011

Jumping off of valkyryn's point, imagine the folklore that would have been generated.
posted by gjc at 5:25 AM on February 5, 2011

In the Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting of Eberron the world has rings in much a similar fashion. Residents of the main continent call it Siberys or the Dragon Above.
posted by clockbound at 5:59 AM on February 5, 2011

I think it would have several names - some religious and some cultural depending on the part of the world. It would also have a scientific name, probably named for who ever figured it out. There would be lots of mythology surrounding it.
posted by Flood at 6:31 AM on February 5, 2011

I read a book where people called these rings "The Big Schmoopy".
posted by KokuRyu at 7:29 AM on February 5, 2011

Mystic: The Path, The Edge, The Sail.

Navigation: The Compass, The Southwest Curve (direction variable by specific locale) The Border, The Sextant.

Nurturing: The Wing, The Mother, The Fount, The Cleft, Bride's Ribbons, The Veil.

Angry: The Scythe, The Swath, The Slice, The Crockshard, God's Blade.

Descriptive: The Rim, The Stripe, Hero's Rib, The Sweep, The Hem, The Beam.

Gutter: The Bedpan, Skycrack, Biggus Dickus. Or some other wang-related thing.

Are your population sexually dimorphic in a similar way to humans? The rings have a nature that would support some interesting gender-of God beliefs. Different cultures in different locations will have a framework for interpreting it as male or female or both, as it is sometimes round and pale and embracing, sometimes straight and stabby.

Whatever you do, have mercy; don't put any f'ant'ostroph'es in the name.
posted by Sallyfur at 7:59 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If you look at the video you can see that certain parts of the globe spend a lot of time deep in shadow, basically the tropical regions.

The equatorial regions basically just see it as a thin line perpendicular to the horizon, so no sun-blocking there. I'll be playing with how thick I make them so I can see how much darkness there would be when the sun goes behind them in other parts of the world-- I'm thinking it's going to dim the light but not block it entirely, so there aren't eclipses so much as short reliefs from sun in summer and short cold twilights in winter.

Are your population sexually dimorphic in a similar way to humans?

Yeah, they're standard humans.

I'm doing one god/one goddess with many faces as the dominant religion.

I'm leaning toward something like "arc" or "arch" with different religious beliefs that call it different kinds of paths; I'm relating the rings to the magic of the world-- people think they're the physical manifestation of something magical. I think. I'm still playing with how magic works.

These have been great-- thanks hivemind!! :)
posted by NoraReed at 9:13 AM on February 5, 2011

Best answer: You'll have to excuse my pedantry plus lack of directly answering your question, but in the YouTube video they show Saturn's rings scaled down to Earth-size, so that Earth+rings looks exactly like Saturn+rings.

Saturn's diameter is about 9.5 times Earth's, so this introduces some significant distortions and (IMHO) impossibilities.

Scaling Saturn's rings down to Earth's size puts the rings at about 2000 miles (inner boundary) to 4000 miles (outer boundary) from the surface of the Earth.

Now I don't have any sophisticated tools to work this out in detail, but for example the Hubble Telescope, orbiting at over 300 miles, would only last a decade or so before reentry, without periodic missions to boost its altitude.

That's because of atmospheric drag--and there is no definite 'top' to the atmosphere. It just gradually becomes lower and lower in density the further out you go.

I'm guessing rings even 2000-4000 miles out wouldn't last very long in geological terms (would they last even 10,000 or 100,000 years?) plus rings that close and in deteriorating orbits would be continually raining junk down on the Earth--quite possibly enough to destroy all life larger than microbial.

And with the lifetime of the rings being that short, and the rings being that close to the Earth, what possible causes are there for the rings that would not *also* destroy advanced life forms on Earth at the time the rings were created?

In short, is it really possible for human life to develop on a planet during the (relatively brief) period when such close-in rings exist?

More realistic IMHO is rings at maybe half or more the Earth-moon distance. Perhaps not coincidentally, center of Saturn to the rings is pretty close to half of Earth-moon distance. So about half Earth-moon distance (and not just 2000-4000 miles above the Saturnian atmosphere) is where Saturn's actual rings are placed.

I made a couple of graphics, made with Celestia plus a bit of photoshopping, that show

(1) The Earth+moon and Saturn+rings at the same distance and field of view, so that you can see how big Saturn's rings are in relation to Earth.

(2) Earth placed in the middle of Saturn's rings, to scale (rather than scaling Earth up to Saturn's size), so that you can see how Saturn's rings and accompanying shepherd moons would fit in with Earth and its moon.

Link to the Earth/Saturn/rings graphics.

This is relevant to your story in at least two ways:

1. The rings at that distance are going to look a fair bit different than the ones very close in, affecting how they are referred to, thought of, and named.

2. Note the shepherd moons which were captured along with the rings in the Earth/ring graphics. The four bright spots near and just outside the outer edge of the rings are all shepherd moons. (The brighter moon near the upper right is the Earth's moon.) As you can see from the graphic, some of these are a significant percentage of the Earth moon's size & brightness. They would almost certainly be obviously visible from the Earth (you'll have to work on the details, but for example the space station which is only about 100 meters in its greatest dimension, is easily visible from Earth--so what about a moon like Janus, one of the shepherd moons, which has a diameter over 150 kilometers?) . These moons would also be noticed, named, and perhaps part of the thinking about or mythology of the rings.

These shepherd moons aren't just a detail--some configuration of shepherd moons must accompany the rings. No shepherd moons, no rings.
posted by flug at 11:39 AM on February 5, 2011 [50 favorites]

Best answer: Because I'm a complete ding-dong and apparently don't have anything better to do with my time, I revamped the data files in Celestia to move Saturn's rings, and also all of Saturn's moons, to Earth.

As I outlined in the post above, the rings are at the same distance from the center of the planet as they are on Saturn (ie, not scaled down to Earth size).

Then I took a bunch of image captures showing the rings from various vantage points on the Earth and also from the moon.

So in short, what we would see from Earth if the Earth had Saturn's rings, as seen:

* from the Earth's equator
* from 75 degrees latitude
* from 20 degrees latitude
* from The moon's surface
* during nighttime and daytime

I'm pretty sure the rings would be visible during the daytime, particularly the parts favorably placed in relation to the sun (ie, on the opposite side of the sky from the sun). After all, the moon is visible during the day and these rings look like they'll be at least as bright as that.
posted by flug at 1:52 PM on February 5, 2011 [35 favorites]

Response by poster: Duuude, flug, that is AWESOME. I'm totally gonna revamp my mythology to use the shepherd moons.
posted by NoraReed at 2:59 PM on February 5, 2011

Also these videos show what we would see from the Earth's surface if we had Saturn's rings and moons:

* Vantage point from about 60 degrees north latitude
* Vantage point from about 20 degrees north latitude
posted by flug at 3:00 PM on February 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm totally gonna revamp my mythology to use the shepherd moons.

Great minds think alike--I was totally thinking the same thing while watching the moons move around in Celestia. They move pretty fast and in both directions. So you have numerous conjunctions (where one moon passes another) every day and you could imagine a society oriented towards astrology type stuff making a special deal of some sort when 2 are in conjunction, 3 (rarer but still common), 4, 5 etc., when 2-3-4-6 moons are all in a certain constellation or in conjunction with the other planets, and lots of other occasions that would be very obviously visible.

If you want to play with Celestia to get at better feel for how the moons & rings would move & look, I uploaded the files that add the rings to Earth. All you have to do is download & install Celestia, then follow the instructions here to replace a couple of data files before starting Celestia.

You can edit the file solarsys.ssc to make the rings take on different configurations. For instance, going go to the Earth Sol section in that file (which is just a plain tex file), and changing the ring parameters to these will give the more close-in rings like in the YouTube video you initially linked.
Rings {
Inner 9000
Outer 74000
Texture "saturn-rings.png"
Those more close-in rings are pretty cool looking from the surface . . .
posted by flug at 3:33 PM on February 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Watching those moons move in Flug's video, the rings are clearly the road of the gods. A flat smooth surface in the heavens upon which luminous beings can be seen to endlessly traverse.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:09 AM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

"That's because of atmospheric drag--and there is no definite 'top' to the atmosphere. It just gradually becomes lower and lower in density the further out you go."
It broadly speaking drops off exponentially - pressure decreasing by e on the scale of kilometres. HST is maybe a hundred scale heights up, so maybe 10-44 times less air pressure around it than at sea level. 2000 miles is maybe 500ish scale heights? That's an extra factor of 10-174 on top of that! There's really not any atmosphere out at that point.

(There's lots of handwaving with temperatures and other things that make the numbers a bit imprecise, but we must be talking hundreds of orders of magnitude less atmosphere anyway)
posted by edd at 3:38 AM on February 7, 2011

This would be terrifying. "...The razor edge of destiny... Thus the condition of man: bound on an island from which he can never have hope to escape, surrounded by the waiting pit of Hell, subject to the inexorable pendulum of fate, which must destroy him finally." - 'The Pit and the Pendulum'.

It might not take on a pleasant name.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 8:05 AM on February 7, 2011

The seam? It would look a little like a dividing line - or more like a point of unification for two halves of the sky.
posted by molecicco at 8:37 AM on February 7, 2011

More than mythology per se, I'm quite certain they'd have evolved a completely new set of astronomical references because of the rings. For instance, they'd have declared that outer-space officially starts from just outside the rings. They'd even have units of distance that measure distances in terms of distance from the planet's surface, and have specific harvest-festivals when the Moon or the Sun crosses the rings, not dissimilar to, say, Mid-Autumn festival among Chinese communities and Sankranti among Indian communities.
posted by the cydonian at 9:51 PM on February 7, 2011

maybe 'bridge'? (with conventional bridges being named after the one in the sky)
also, you might also consider naming transient features in the rings, like spokes, propellers, and asteroid/comet these would be easily visible moving across the face of the rings, any bridge or road metaphor makes a lot of sense...

on a side note, a bit of math i did once:
from the surface of the earth, the moon and sun each take up about 1/2 a degree of the sky (you can cover either with your pinky finger held at arms length... and it's their identical apparent size that makes eclipses possible), however, from the surface of titan (assuming you could see through the haze), saturn takes up 22 1/2 degrees (!) of the sky...that's BIG
posted by sexyrobot at 12:01 AM on February 8, 2011

sorry, to clarify...that's saturn and its main rings (out to the f ring) that would take up 22 1/2 degrees of titans sky...
posted by sexyrobot at 12:06 AM on February 8, 2011

posted by EarBucket at 8:41 AM on February 8, 2011

Actually, we get the word "bridge" from the same Old German we get "sun" and "moon" from. So maybe it's just the bridge.
posted by EarBucket at 8:51 AM on February 8, 2011

I propose naming it, "The flug."
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:02 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm thinking I'm going to call it the Road or some variation thereof-- the Gods' Road or something-- and cast the shepherd moons as waypoints or cairns of some time.

Given that my method of storytelling mainly revolves around throwing concepts at the wall and seeing which ones stick to the plot and the characters, that might change.
posted by NoraReed at 7:11 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by Eideteker at 10:26 PM on February 10, 2011

Flug's Road, surely.
posted by wilful at 10:30 PM on February 20, 2011

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