Stardome educator, David Britten, explores some of the not so known facts about a very well known series.
Since my recent education resource about the names of stars was posted on our website, I’ve been reminded of astronomical links in the Harry Potter stories.
Quite a few characters in the series are named after celestial objects. Seven of the stars used as character names are bright naked-eye objects in the night sky: Alphard, Arcturus, Bellatrix, Merope, Pollux, Regulus and Sirius. The exception is Merope (Ururangi), which is one of the Pleiades (Seven Sisters; Matariki), and much fainter than the others.
Six characters are also named after constellations: Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cygnus, Draco, Orion and Scorpius. These are constellations seen ‘correctly’ from the northern hemisphere. They appear inverted to our eyes in the southern hemisphere. The werewolf Lupin’s name also derives from Lupus (wolf), a constellation in the southern night sky.
Aurora is named after the Aurora Borealis (northern lights), which is air glow caused by solar storms seen high in the atmosphere at night at high latitudes (far from the equator). The Aurora Australis is the same effect that occurs in the southern hemisphere.
Hermione and Ginny (Ginevra Molly Weasley) are named after large asteroids, and Luna is Latin for Moon.
It’s heartening that the curriculum at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry included astronomy, with compulsory classes on the stars and movement of the planets. This is the only subject directly related to the ‘muggles’ world (our ‘real’ world).
Practical exercises and exams were conducted at 11pm or midnight using telescopes and star charts. This seems to indicate a ‘para-scientific’ approach because astronomers utilise the whole night to observe the various stars as they pass across the dark sky. The middle of the night brings no particular advantage to observing.
If you’re interested in more of these literary/astronomical references in Harry Potter, have a read of some of the links below