• Dalur Júlíuson

Loki (18.41 N, 302.58 W): A Found Poem

In the course of doing research for my new book about medieval imagery in space exploration and the astrophysical sciences - The Cosmic Dark Ages - I've read dozens of geological research papers about Loki, Valhalla, and other characters and places from medieval European literatures.

Loki Patera (226.57km diameter, 13.01 N, 308.79 W) is the largest volcanic depression on Jupiter's moon Io. NASA ID: PIA00320.

Planetary scientists often draw from medieval European literatures in naming features in the otherworldly landscapes they work with. The development of this new place-language is vital to their work, enabling them to distinguish one crater from another in their writings, and also helping them to think about distant planets not simply as astronomical data – as faraway formations of rock and ice – but as worlds.

These names seem to come to us from a strange, alternate space-time, as though Valhalla was found to be real and discovered in some dark region of the cosmos.

Through the names assigned to them, these landscapes are imbued with the numinous power of myth, becoming their own kind of poetry. In these geological research papers, I've loved seeing how the main actors of the Norse myths – characters like Loki, Thor, and Volund – are surreally emplaced in a world of ‘observed lava morphologies’, ‘endogenic activity’, and ‘arcuate ridges and scarps’. These names seem to come to us from a strange, alternate space-time, as though Valhalla was found to be real and discovered in some dark region of the cosmos.

I've been experimenting recently with interlacing these two poetries, working citations from geological research papers and the Old Norse eddas into a kind of found poetry. Below is an experiment called Loki (18.41 N, 302.58 W), about a volcano on Jupiter's moon Io.

Loki (18.41 N, 302.58 W)

Resurfacing at Loki Patera, a feature over 170 km in diameter, is consistent with the quiescent foundering of the crust on a lava lake.

A ship journeys from the east, Muspell’s troops are coming

The active, emitting area of Loki Patera, over 21,000 km2, has led to this feature being described as a magma sea, rather than a lava lake (Davies et al 2005).

over the ocean, and Loki steers.

Loki is pleasing, even beautiful to look at,

The first images of Loki were obtained by the Voyager 1 and 2 space-craft,

but his nature is evil and he is undependable.

and showed a dark patera floor >21 × 103 km2 that surrounded a light-colored “island”, presumably a topographically high region, near the center (Lopes et al 2018).

‘among the Æsir and elves who are within,

The pair of plumes at the Loki fissure

no one has a friendly word for you’

seemed to oscillate between the two classes (Johnson and Soderblom 1983).

‘isn’t it known of Loki that he likes a joke and all the gods love him?’

The variations in brightness of Loki discussed above imply that the lava lake undergoes periods of quasi-cyclic activity (Lopes et al. 2018).

‘Drunk you are, Loki, so that you’re out of your wits, why don’t you stop speaking?

Loki is the largest patera and the most energetic hotspot on Jupiter’s moon Io,

For too much drinking effects every man

in turn the most volcanically active body in the Solar System,

so he does not notice his talkativeness’

but the nature of the activity remains enigmatic (Howell and Lopes 2007).

High-resolution thermal data

‘eight winters you were,

from Galileo are only available for a few of the Ionian paterae, and only for Loki from ground-based

beneath the earth, observations.

During an eruptive event

a woman milking cows,

(or thermal brightening) at Loki, the region directly above the eruptive fissures

and there you bore children,

might behave as an active lava lake (Lopes et al. 2018).

and that I thought the hallmark of a pervert’

‘Mad you are, Loki,

The availability of observations of Loki makes this Ionian volcano the most suitable for modeling

and out of your wits’

to try to understand the behavior of Io's intra-patera eruptions (Lopes et al. 2018).

Loki ate some of the heart,


the thought-stone of a woman,

Loki has never been observed to be

roasted on a linden-wood fire, he found it half-cooked.

“cold” in the infra-red, and so some level of activity must always remain (Lopes et al. 2018).

‘Mad are you, Loki,

If that is the case, and if Loki and its vicinity was mistakenly taken to be representative of the entire body,

when you reckon up your ugly, hateful deeds’

the total power actually emitted by Io may be closer to the theoretical expectation (Johnson and Soderblom 1983).

‘all your possessions that are here inside –

Loki is Io's largest patera

may flame play over them,

and the Solar System's most powerful volcano in terms of thermal energy released

and your back be burnt!’

(its total energy output is of the order of 1013 W) (Lopes et al. 2018).


Davies, Ashley Gerard, Julie Calkins, Lucas Scharenbroich, R. Greg Vaughan, Robert Wright, Philip Kyle, Rebecca Castańo, Steve Chien, and Daniel Tran. ‘Multi-instrument remote and in situ observations of the Erebus Volcano (Antarctica) lava lake in 2005: A comparison with the Pele lava lake on the jovian moon Io’. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 177:3 (2008), 705–724.

Howell, Robert R., Lopes, Rosaly M. C. ‘The nature of the volcanic activity at Loki: Insights from Galileo NIMS and PPR data’. Icarus (2007), 448-461.

Lopes, Rosaly M.C., Tracy K.P. Gregg, Andrew Harris, Jani Radebaugh, Paul Byrne, Laura Johnson, Torrence V., and Launce A. Soderblom. ‘Io’. Scientific American 249:6 (1983), 56-67.

Kerber, and Peter Mouginis-Mark. ‘Extraterrestrial Lava Lakes’. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research (2018), 74-95.

Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda, trans. and introd. Jesse L. Byock. London: Penguin, 2005.

The Poetic Edda, trans. Carolyne Larrington. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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