At first glance this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image seems to show an array of different cosmic objects, but the speckling of stars shown here actually forms a single body — a nearby dwarf galaxy known as Leo A. Its few million stars are so sparsely distributed that some distant background galaxies are visible through it. Leo A itself is at a distance of about 2.5 million light-years from Earth and a member of the Local Group of galaxies; a group that includes the Milky Way and the well-known Andromeda galaxy. Astronomers study dwarf galaxies because they are very numerous and are  simpler in structure than their giant cousins. However, their small size makes them difficult to study at great distances. As a result, the dwarf galaxies of the Local Group are of particular interest, as they are close enough to study in detail. As it turns out, Leo A is a rather unusual galaxy. It is one of the most isolated galaxies in the Local Group, has no obvious structural features beyond being a roughly spherical mass of stars, and shows no evidence for recent interactions with any of its few neighbours. However, the galaxy’s contents are overwhelmingly dominated by relatively young stars, something that would normally be the result of a recent interaction with another galaxy. Around 90% of the stars in Leo A are less than eight billion years old — young in cosmic terms! This raises a number of intriguing questions about why star formation in Leo A did not take place on the “usual” timescale, but instead waited until it was good and ready.

Naming the Heavens, Fooling a Dwarf

The featured image is from the Hubble Space Telescope, and constitutes the dwarf galaxy called Leo A. More details (and higher resolution images) at the Hubble website.

I’ve explained the basics of the poem Alvíssmál previously, and I won’t recount the background of this tale except to remind you that it involves the typically violent Thor outwitting a dwarf suitor for his daughter and turning him to stone.

Instead, with my own thoughts turned skyward this week, I thought I’d share a few stanzas of the poem dealing specifically with the heavens, a good example of how skaldic poetry works in action, with repeated phrases and sometimes explicitly naming the kennings and other synonym phrases that can be used in other poems.

Thor spake:
11. “Answer me, Alvis! | thou knowest all,
Dwarf, of the doom of men:
What call they the heaven, | beheld of the high one,
In each and every world?”

Alvis spake:
12. ” ‘Heaven’ men call it, | ‘The Height’ the gods,
The Wanes ‘The Weaver of Winds’;
Giants ‘The Up-World,’ | elves ‘The Fair-Roof,’
The dwarfs ‘The Dripping Hall.'”

Thor spake:
13. “Answer me, Alvis! | thou knowest all,
Dwarf, of the doom of men.:
What call they the moon, | that men behold,
In each and every world?”

Alvis spake:
14. “‘Moon’ with men, ‘Flame’ | the gods among,
‘The Wheel’ in the house of hell;
‘The Goer’ the giants, | ‘The Gleamer’ the dwarfs,
The elves ‘The Teller of Time.”

Thor spake:
15. “Answer me, Alvis! | thou knowest all,
Dwarf, of the doom of men:
What call they the sun, | that all men see,
In each and every world?”

Alvis spake:
16. “Men call it ‘Sun,’ | gods ‘Orb of the Sun,’
‘The Deceiver of Dvalin’ the dwarfs;
The giants ‘The Ever-Bright,’ | elves ‘Fair Wheel,’
‘All-Glowing’ the sons of the gods.”

"The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani" (1909) by J. C. Dollman. Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline) (1909). Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas.
“The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani” (1909) by J. C. Dollman. Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline) (1909). Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas.
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2 comments on “Naming the Heavens, Fooling a Dwarf

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