Why is the study of the weather confusingly known as meteorology? Blame Aristotle, he wrote a book on the weather describing the interplay of the elements, explaining that the sun causes vapours to rise up from the earth and the sea, he entitled it Meteorology from the word meteoros meaning “raised up high”. Meteoro-logica is “the discussion of high things”.
In Aristotle’s world view, these high things included everything below the sphere of the moon and above the earth, a space with air and fire and various moist or dry vapours. Aristotle’s followers tidied up his scheme and classified the meteors into different types. There were aerial meteors such as winds, thunder and earthquakes, and aqueous meteors including clouds, rain and snow. Luminous meteors covered the aurora and rainbows, while fiery meteors encompassed lightning, shooting stars and even the Milky Way. All these phenomena were thought to come from the same interplay of elements, so were included in meteorology.
It took many centuries for the various separate phenomena to be disentangled. It was not until the 1590, in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, that the word meteor was specifically used to mean a fireball or shooting star. It is ironic that of all Aristotle’s many phenomena, the name meteor became attached to something which now belongs decidedly to physicists rather than meteorology.