ISCI 104   Lab 2:   The Line of the Evening Star


Purpose: To use the writings of Tolkien to explore the concept of species and the apparent motion of an inferior planet (Venus).


In “The Silmarillion” you were introduced to Earendil and Elwing, the Half-elven, along with their sons Elrond and Elros. Remember that Earendil's ship was placed in the sky and became the planet Venus (The Morning and Evening Star).  In this lab you will see how scientifically accurate Tolkien was on several points.


Part A) Biological Species


According to biologists, animals are said to belong to the same species if they can breed and produce fertile offspring (their offspring can breed successfully).



1)    A male donkey and a female horse can breed to produce a mule. Mules are infertile.  Are donkeys and horses the same species or different species?





2)     The Bichon/Yorkie is a result of unplanned breeding between the Bichon Frise and the Yorkshire Terrier. Breeding of the Bichon/Yorkie has continued, because of fertile offspring. Are these dog breeds the same species or different species?





3)    The Mini Lop, one of the most popular breeds of rabbits, originated in Germany in 1972. This was a cross breeding using the big German Lop and the little Chinchilla rabbit. Mini lops, like all rabbits, are very fertile! Are the German lop and Chinchilla rabbit the same species or different species?






4)    A male tiger and a female lion can breed (with a lot of human intervention) to produce a tigon. Tigons are infertile. Are lions and tigers the same species or different species?


5)    The following is from a letter Tolkien wrote in 1954: “Elves and Men are evidently in biological terms one race [species], or they could not breed and produce fertile offspring – even as a rare event: there are two cases only in my legends of such unions, and they are merged in the descendents of Earendil.”


Is Tolkien's biology right? Explain.












Part B) How Elven is Elrond Half-elven?


Elrond and his brother Elros are known as “Half-elven” in Tolkien's works. In this section you will discover whether this appellation is correct.



1)    The following is a list of Elrond's predecessors by “kind” (elf, human, maiar). Use the list to identify the different kinds of ancestors on the enclosed family tree. Designate persons of one kind only (full blood elves, full blood humans, full blood maiar) by three different colors.  Do not color in persons of mixed background.






Elmo and wife

Galadhon's wife

Galathil's wife






Hathol and wife

Halmir and wife

Belegund and wife

Hador's wife

Beor the Old and wife






Using fractions, look at the ancestry of each of Elrond's great-grandparents (the generation of Huor through Galathil). Mark the fraction of each kind (for example, all elf, ˝ elf ˝ human, etc) for each great-grandparent, then move down to the grandparents, parents, and finally Elrond himself. Add up all the fractional pieces (from both parent's sides) and break down Elrond's final ancestry (eg. 4/15 human, 9/15 elf, 2/15 maiar). Is he really “half-elven”?



Part C) Earendil and Venus


The table below lists the apparent positions of Venus and Earth in their orbits for the year 1998. Plot the Venus data on the third main circle out from the center of the polar graph paper, and Earth on the fourth main circle. In each case, label the points by the month (e.g. January = 1). 


Positions of the planets in their orbits (in degree)





Jan 1



Feb 1



Mar 1



April 1



May 1



June 1



July 1



Aug 1



Sept 1



Oct 1



Nov 1



Dec 1





For each date, draw a line connecting the Earth to Venus, and another line from Earth to the sun (the center of the graph). Translate this onto the enclosed diagram showing where the sun and Venus would appear in the sky at either sunrise or sunset, and label the apparition “morning star” or “evening star”.





What is the largest apparent angular distance between the sun and Venus seen from your data?









In “The Silmarillion”, it is said of Earendil's ship, Rothinzil (Vingelot) that the Numenoreans followed it to sail west to their new island:


“But so bright was Rothinzil that even at morning Men could see it glimmering in the West, and in the cloudless night it shone alone, for no other star could stand beside it.”


What astronomical error is contained in this passage?












Lab created by Dr. Kristine Larsen of Central Connecticut State University. Permission granted to reproduce or modify for classroom use so long as this or a similar authorship statement remains attached. Last revision June 13, 2008.