In 19th century texts on astronomy, the planets are often represented by symbols: ☿ for Mercury, ♀ for Venus, etc..

Did NASA ever use these symbols, or were they already obsolete by then? If they did use them, I'd expect it to be very early on.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Use them for what purpose? $\endgroup$ – coleopterist Aug 22 '13 at 5:47
  • $\begingroup$ @coleopterist, for any purpose, actually. I've seen them in things from the 1800s and earlier. The only place I can recall seeing them in use from the 1900s was the text adventure game Trinity. $\endgroup$ – Joe Aug 22 '13 at 5:50
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ FWIW, symbols were in use in the 20th century too. One of the reasons why the name Pluto was accepted in 1930 was because its first two letters PL were the initials of Percival Lowell, the founder of the Lowell Observatory (which discovered the "planet"). Pluto's astronomical symbol is ♇. $\endgroup$ – coleopterist Aug 22 '13 at 5:55
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I know I've seen them in a trajectory design context before, and I know the symbol for Earth is often used (for example, as a subscript when describing the radius of the Earth). If I can find a published example I'll make an actual answer. $\endgroup$ – user29 Aug 22 '13 at 13:18
  • 3

In the strictest sense of use "for any purpose" as you say in the comments, yes. Taken from NASA page on Solar System Symbols:

enter image description here

The symbols for the planets, dwarf planet Pluto, Moon and Sun (along with the symbols for the zodiac constellations) were developed for use in both astronomy and astrology.

The astronomical symbol for the Sun is a shield with a circle inside. Some believe this inner circle, or "boss" represents a central sun spot.

The symbol for Mercury represents the head and winged cap of Mercury, god of commerce and communication, surmounting his caduceus (staff).

The symbol for Venus is designated as the female symbol, thought to be the stylized representation of the hand mirror of this goddess of love.

The symbol for Earth shows a globe bisected by meridian lines into four quarters.

The symbol for the Moon is a crescent.

The symbol for Mars represents the shield and spear of the god of war, Mars; it is also the male or masculine symbol.

The symbol for Jupiter is said to represent a hieroglyph of the eagle, Jove's bird, or to be the initial letter of Zeus with a line drawn through it to indicate its abbreviation.

The symbol for Saturn is thought to be an ancient scythe or sickle, as Saturn was the god of seed-sowing and also of time.

The symbol for Uranus is represented by combined devices indicating the Sun plus the spear of Mars, as Uranus was the personification of heaven in Greek mythology, dominated by the light of the Sun and the power of Mars.

The symbol for Neptune is the trident (long three-pronged fork or weapon) of Neptune, god of the sea.

The symbol for dwarf planet Pluto is a monogram made up of P and L in Pluto (and also the initials of Percival Lowell, who predicted its discovery).

Credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute

All the planets of our Solar system have similar pages of their own, also using astronomical symbols, for example Neptune's Symbol page. The credited Lunar and Planetary Institute is a NASA funded institute in Houston, Texas, devoted to studying the solar system and sharing the excitement of space exploration with the public.

Being somewhat time-constraint, I wasn't able to find any mission imagery (observation data, telemetry data readings, mission control software, or any other such media with possible notations) that would use these astronomical symbols for planets. But as the time goes by, I'm pretty sure someone will find something, and I don't see why NASA using astronomical symbols also for other uses besides acknowledging they exist and describing them would even be considered anything unusual. Press kits might be watered down for easier consumption of the general populace, but for their internal use and where as concise as possible notations would be required not to obstruct other meaningful data, I imagine they'd use them frequently.

  • $\begingroup$ It's kind of sad that you, literally, for the first time in my life, have me understanding the origin of the phrase "Women are from Venus, men are from Mars" and the joking addition "... but my spouse is from Mercury." $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Nov 30 '18 at 20:58

They have absolutely used these, in various mission badges:

This was the logo for the Mercury project:

Here's a patch from the Viking program:

(source: colostate.edu)

And one from Mariner 2, to Venus:

None of these are for any sort of technical reason; I'm sure the symbols aren't used for anything important, but as a little bit of astronomical history, they're not completely forgotten, either.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And the circles with a cross or a dot are commonly used in diagrams of papers and presentations to represent the Sun or Earth, usually their mass. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Jul 14 '15 at 4:12

Mariner Jupiter Saturn, later named Project Voyager, initially had the Jupiter and Saturn symbols on the project logo.enter image description here


In the astronomical literature and therefore by NASA, at least the Earth and Sun symbol are used by standard to denote parameters like radius, mass, luminosity of the Earth and the Sun. It is customary to denote $\rm R_{\oplus}$, and $\rm R_{\odot}$, whereas for Jupiter (probably as it is not implemented in standard latex) one nowadays usually uses $\rm R_{J}$ or $\rm R_{Jup}$.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.