late 14c., hemysperie, in reference to the celestial sphere, from Late Latin hemisphaerium, from Greek hēmisphairion, from hēmi- "half" (see hemi-) + sphaira "sphere" (see sphere). Spelling reformed 16c. Of the Earth, from 1550s; of the brain, 1804.
word-forming element meaning "half," from Latin hemi- and directly from Greek hēmi- "half," from PIE root *semi-, which is the source of Sanskrit sami, Latin semi- (see semi-), Old High German sami- "half," and Old English sam-, denoting a partial or imperfect condition (see sandblind).
mid-15c., Latinized spelling of Middle English spere (c. 1300) "cosmos; space, conceived as a hollow globe about the world," from Anglo-French espiere, Old French espere (13c., Modern French sphère), from Latin sphaera "globe, ball, celestial sphere" (Medieval Latin spera), from Greek sphaira "globe, ball, playing ball, terrestrial globe," a word of unknown origin.
From late 14c. in reference to any of the supposed concentric, transparent, hollow, crystalline globes of the cosmos believed to revolve around the earth and contain the planets and the fixed stars; the supposed harmonious sound they made rubbing against one another was the music of the spheres (late 14c.). Also from late 14c. as "a globe; object of spherical form, a ball," and the geometric sense "solid figure with all points equidistant from the center." Meaning "range of something, place or scene of activity" is first recorded c. 1600 (as in sphere of influence, 1885, originally in reference to Anglo-German colonial rivalry in Africa).