A Johns Hopkins University astronomer led by Brian Welch, a Ph.D. student, discovered the world’s most famous star record. Although the discovery itself is unbelievable and has been widely reported in the past month and a half, one thing caught my eye: the star is named after the J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. There is a reason for that. But first, it is essential to discuss how the star – called “Earendel” – was discovered.
The first thing you should know about Earendel is that its light takes about 12.9 billion years to reach Earth. Putting this in context: The previous record holder, Icarus, is extended 9.4 billion years. The difference between the two figures is equal to over 75% of the Earth’s life span – unimaginably significant.
“This big jump in the distance could have happened by accident. Finding stars with gravitational lenses is still a relatively new thing, so not many people are looking at it, “Welch tells IGN.
At his discovery, he studied Sunrise Arc, the Gardel galaxy he calls home. All of his research has been predicting one point here while working in his basement office back in 2020 – two years later, Gardel was revealed to the world.
“Tolkien’s character Eärendil is certainly the one who inspired the term,” Welch confirms. “Once I became convinced that this was a star, I started to put together words that I could spell. Eärendil was one of the first to come to mind as he eventually sailed his Vingilot through the sky with Silmaril on his forehead, becoming a star and a symbol of hope over the Middle-Earth.
As I continued my search, I discovered Tolkien’s first impression of the character was that of the Old English word Earendel, meaning The Morning Star, from a poem entitled Crist – ‘Eala Earendel, Angela beorhtast. Offer Middangeard monnum sent. “Hail Earendel, the brightest of angels. Sent to men over the Middle-earth.’ The ‘morning star’ indicator worked very well, as this is often called Cosmic Dawn, so that kind of terminated the contract. And an Old English morning star reference is enough to convince my young Tolkien-savvy writers that the word works well. “