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Astronomy of Middle-Earth Lecture Report

October 6, 2004 at 1:33 pm by xoanon  - 

Skyway Moaters writes:

Just thought I’d drop you a line to let you know about a “Tolkien Event” that took place this past Monday evening at The Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility here in the Hampton Roads area of Southern Virginia. The lecture was entitled: “Moon Runes, The Light of Earendil, and Durin’s Crown: The Astronomy of Middle-Earth”, and was delivered by one Kristine M. Larsen, Ph.D., Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Central Connecticut State University. The event took place in a large lecture hall at the Jefferson Labs facility described above, and the good professor (a true Tolkien Geek BTW) was playing to a packed house.

Dr. Larsen very clearly delineated the pains to which JRRT put himself to get the phases of the moon to be consistent with the timeline of the novel and talked at length concerning Middle Earth/Endor/Arda/Aman Cosmology, the Silmarillion’s creation myth, and: the creation of the ‘lesser stars’, The Two Trees of the Valar, the ‘greater’ stars and finally the Sun and Moon (Aran and Isil); illustrating with a well turned out slide-show presentation the relationships of all these things to our ‘real world’ night skies.

We learned for example that The Big Dipper is analogous with Tolkien’s “Sickle Of the Valar”, Menelvagor (Sindarin name, Menelmacar in Quenya) – ‘Swordsman of the Sky’ = “Orion the Hunter”, The Star of Earendil = Venus, and “red Borgil” = Aldebaran – NOT Betelgeuse as I had always guessed. An assertion very well supported by the passage in the text from FOTR: “Away high in the East swung Remmirath, (The Pleiades) the Netted Stars, and slowly above the mists red Borgil rose, glowing like a jewel of fire. Then by some shift of airs all the mist was drawn away like a veil, and there leaned up, as he climbed over the the rim of the world, the Swordsman of the Sky, Menelvagor with his shining belt…”. Borgil CAN’T be Betelgeuse because it rises BEFORE Menelvagor/Orion.

It turns out that the ‘identity’ of the constellation depicted in the “Crown of Durin”, that the Father of Dwarves saw reflected about his head when first he gazed into icy ‘Mirrormere’ – Kheled Zaram, is a subject of much debate among ‘Astronomically savvy’ Tolkienites. I could be meant to represent “Corona Borealis” – the “Northern Crown” (seven stars in approximately the same arrangement depicted on Durin’s Door) or possibly “Cepheus the King”, another famous circumpolar northern constellation, lying next to both Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper – a circumpolar group of stars and would, theoretically, be visible all the times if one could see stars during the day. The main difficulty with such an identification is that Cepheus only contains five prominent stars. Heck, to me “Durin’s Crown” looks most like “Corona Australis” – the “Southern Crown”, but that would mean the Misty Mountains and Moria would have to have be in the southern hemisphere, oh well. But then again, are we talking flat Arda? Round Arda? Pthlblt! Now my head hurts.

Funny thing though, no mention was made of “The Southern Cross” – “Crusis” (Crux), that I could have sworn was mentioned in some essay or other I remember reading years ago, as having a Middle Earth analogue. Oh well again.

Professor Larsen lectures frequently and apparently travels extensively doing so. So keep an eye out for academic lectures and events in your area, and catch this excellent presentation should you get the opportunity. Highly recommended for all Tolkien geeks, erm, SCHOLARS, of every stripe. AND you can check it out on-line @: physics.ccsu.edu or physics.ccsu.edu Please see attached photos and feel free to use them on TORN if you like.

Posted in Old Special Reports on October 6, 2004 by

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