What’s in a Name? The Cosmos

In this post, we’ll explore how the simple act of naming something can have a profound impact on our understanding of the cosmos.

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Have you ever wondered about the origins of the names of the objects in our night sky? Why are some stars called “Red Dwarfs” while others are called “Blue Giants”? How did galaxies get their names?

In this article, we’ll explore the etymologies of some of the most well-known astronomical objects and find out how they got their names.

What’s in a name?

The word cosmos is derived from the Greek word κόσμος (kósmos), which means “world” or “order”. The cosmos is the universe considered as a whole, including all of its galaxies, stars, planets, moons, and asteroids.

The meaning of “cosmos”

There is no one agreed-upon meaning of the word “cosmos.” It can refer to the Universe as a whole, or it can be used to describe a specific corner or aspect of the Universe. Sometimes it’s used to refer to the physical Universe, while other times it’s used to refer to the orderliness of Nature.

In general, though, “cosmos” expresses a sense of beauty, harmony, and balance. It’s often used in contrast to words like “chaos” or “disorder.” For example, someone might say that the cosmos is a beautiful place, but that there is too much chaos in their personal life.

The word “cosmos” comes from the Greek word κόσμος (kósmos), which can be translated as “order,” “harmony,” or “world.” The Greeks believed that the Universe was an ordered and beautiful place, even if they didn’t always understand why things happened the way they did. This belief in an ordered cosmos was one of the foundations of Greek philosophy and science.

The etymology of “cosmos”

The word cosmos is derived from the Greek word κόσμος (kósmos), which literally means “order” or “ornament” and metaphorically signifies “world”, as opposed to chaos. The antonym of cosmos is ἀκόσμος (akósmos), which literally means “street riot”.

Early use of the term in English cited in the Oxford English Dictionary included several surprising applications, such as Thomas More’s novel Utopia (1516), where he wrote “In Utopia, there is no society, no commonwealth, no place wherein every man would not rather dwell than in any other; and this for many excellent reasons. There are none who are not rich; there are none who are subject to diseases; …and finally, there never was so excellent a political constitution, nor so little liable to be disturbed, as there is in that country.”

The use of “cosmos” in modern astronomy

In modern astronomy, the term “cosmos” is generally used to refer to the entire observed universe. This use of the word first appears in an essay written by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in 1755, in which he argues that the universe must be infinite in extent.

Today, we understand that the cosmos is not just infinitely large, but also incredibly old. The most recent estimates suggest that the universe is around 13.8 billion years old. And it’s not just big and old – the cosmos is also full of an unimaginably vast number of stars and galaxies.

The word “cosmos” can also be used to refer to a theory or model of the universe. In this sense, it is often used interchangeably with “universe.” For example, the inflationary lambda-CDM model is one popular cosmological model that attempt to explain the origin and evolution of our Universe.


As you can see, there is a lot more to the cosmos than meets the eye. With all of the different galaxies, stars, and planets, it’s no wonder that it has been a source of fascination for centuries. So, the next time you look up at the night sky, remember that you are looking at a tiny fraction of the cosmos. And who knows, maybe one day you will be able to see even more of it firsthand.

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