A physicist loose among the liberal arts

My greatest wonder

The theme of Mythmoot IV was “Invoking Wonder”, and lots of people who attended have been posting about works that have inspired wonder in them.  Here are noteworthy contributions from Kat and Tom.

I tried to think of works of art that inspired a similar wonder in me, but they kept getting drowned out by a work of science and engineering:  The Hubble Space Telescope‘s Deep Field images.

Galaxies beyond galaxies

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field image

This is what science is all about.  They persuaded people to build the most amazing astronomical machine in history, and then pointed it towards places where nothing is.  No stars in our galaxy, no clouds of dust that will one day coalesce into solar systems.  And they found that even the emptiest part of the sky is filled with thousands of entire galaxies.  Not just there, of course.  Behind every star we can see, there’s a similar multitude of island universes, drowned out by the closer light sources.

The Silmarillion came out before the Hubble, so I didn’t have this in my mind when the Elves first awoke and saw the stars and said “Behold!” by the shores of Cuiviénen.  But now I know what they meant.

This particular image was taken in the near infrared, not visible light, because these galaxies are too old to be seen in visible light.  They upshifted the light to what it must have looked like when it left the sources. These galaxies are so old that many of them do not yet contain stars.  We’re ahead of the Elves now.  Pace Mithrandir, this is wizardry indeed!


Denethor’s Ring


Hail, Caesura


  1. Varda’s workshop.

    • Joe

      “Do you like them? They’re just rough cuts – I have some ideas for how to make them sparkly that’ll go into the final version.”

  2. I’m reminded of Tolkien mocking Lewis’ materialism in “Mythopoeia”: “a star’s a star, some matter in a ball / compelled to courses mathematical / amid the regimented, cold, Inane, / where destined atoms are each moment slain.”

    Of course, what I think is often forgotten is that Tolkien wasn’t saying that a star isn’t the things mentioned above; he was saying that isn’t just those things. Another way to say this is that there is still room for wonder in a world governed by science.

    Your posts always do a fantastic job bringing wonder and science together.

  3. Thanks for the video at the link! I’ll watch that.

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