Saturday, October 17, 2015

Moon: Atlas

Lunar Orbiter 4 image of Atlas
"Atlas crater 4079 h2 4079 h3" by James Stuby based on NASA image via Commons
Atlas Crater
Atlas is a prominent lunar impact crater that is located in the northeast part of the Moon, to the southeast of Mare Frigoris. Just to the west is the slightly smaller but still prominent crater Hercules. Northeast of Atlas is the large Endymion.

The inner wall of Atlas is multiply terraced and the edge slumped, forming a sharp-edged lip. This is a floor-fractured crater with a rough and hilly interior that has a lighter albedo than the surroundings. Floor-fractures are usually created as a result of volcanic modifications.

There are two dark patches along the inner edge of the walls; one along the north edge and another besides the southeast edges. A system of slender clefts named the Rimae Atlas crosses the crater floor, and were created by volcanism. Along the north and northeastern inner sides are a handful of dark-halo craters, most likely due to eruptions. Around the midpoint is a cluster of low central hills arranged in a circular formation.

Sculpture of Atlas, Praza do Toural, Santiago de Compostela.
"Atlas Santiago Toural GFDL" by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez
Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
In Greek mythology, Atlas (Ancient Greek: Ἄτλας) was the Titan who held up the sky. Although associated with various places, he became commonly identified with the Atlas Mountains in northwest Africa (Modern-day Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia). Atlas was the son of the Titan Iapetus and the Oceanid Asia or Clymene. According to the ancient Greek poet Hesiod Atlas stood at the ends of the earth towards the west.

In contexts where a Titan and a Titaness are assigned each of the seven planetary powers, Atlas is paired with Phoebe and governs the moon. Hyginus emphasises the primordial nature of Atlas by making him the son of Aether and Gaia.

The first part of the term Atlantic Ocean refers to "Sea of Atlas", the term Atlantis refers to "island of Atlas".
Geocentric world view gets concrete aspect at Santiago de Compostela where the statue in the above image stands. The shore of Atlantic Ocean was for the ancients the edge of the world beyond which there was the great unknown with its monsters. Some of Christopher Columbus' sailors still had deep fear of them. The ancients came there on foot perhaps already in the Prehistoric period to see how the Sun sets in West. The ancient path from Europe to this part of the Iberian Peninsula later became the route of the famous pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Jacob, one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus (Santiago, Sant Jacob). The traditions about St Jacob have here a strong local coloring. For example, the ubiquitous shell symbol now associated with him probably has a history hundreds if not thousands of years before the Saint.

The figure of Atlas is a reminder that while exceptionally gifted classical Greek scientists pondered the laws of nature in the solar system, visible planets and Earth using observations, logic and mathematics, the masses shared a rich mythological world about Earth and Sky with quite imaginary but essentially common sense explanations to phenomena. How does the sky stay up? Well, obviously someone pretty strong is holding it ...

Excerpts from Wiki texts have been incorporated into the blog as kinds of abstracts for reader's convenience. By clicking the links much more can be learned about these subjects.

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