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New essay! Astronomy in HP


I know it’s been awhile, but I have finally posted another new essay. This one is from astronomer and past Lexicon contributor Mike Weinstein: Astronomy in the Harry Potter Series. Enjoy!


Pensieve (Comments)

  • kzspot

    Excellent, Bandersnatch, excellent.

  • Bandersnatch

    Thanks, KZ.

  • Warren

    To be of any use a model of the galaxy would obviously need a “zoom in” option.
    And maybe by “unusually bright” Ronan meant Mars was brigther then it should be. This is a world were magic exists and is linked to planets, so impossible things can happen. Thats a great essay, really informative.

  • Big_Kelpie

    wow… about the moving model of the galaxy, it may be enchanted similarly to the maruader map so that it shows the fragment to which u are paying attention and maybe the newt astronomy lessons cover the galaxy and not just the solarsystem. anyway lovely essay!

  • Peppergnome

    Another interesting and informative essay. I always learn something new from you. The star charts for the Astronomy O.W.L. were really interesting to see. Thanks Bandersnatch!

  • Bandersnatch

    You’re welcome, Pepper.

    Warren and Big_Kelpie, *I* think a zoomable holographic model of the entire Milky Way Galaxy would be seriously awesome!

  • Graymayne

    I actually spotted the error about Dan seeing Orion in June the first time I read the book! I checked out my hunch with what little reference stuff I had, and, sure enough, Orion was not on the star map. I only know a little about stars but enough to have a book at hand to check out obvious star names in the Black family tree. It is nice to have a commentary from an astronomer.

  • Bandersnatch

    I see I made a small oversight in Footnote 7 of my essay, in which I calculate that the Astronomy O.W.L. practical was given on June 24.

    If Harry spent a “few weeks” at the Burrow in HBP, and then left it for Diagon Alley a “few days” after July 31, then he arrived at the burrow around July 13 (not July 10). The Astronomy O.W.L. practical would then be “two weeks” and two days before, on June 27.

    But given the ambiguities in terms like HBP’s “over the next few weeks,” “few days,” and “over the last two weeks,” June 24 could still be correct (while the Lexicon Timeline’s other guess, June 17, is more unlikely).

    –Bandersnatch (a.k.a. Mike Weinstein), proud member of LOON (League of Obsessed Nitpickers)

  • Marco

    I have another one, an this is the rescue of Harry from the Dursleys in the Ford Anglia at the begin of CS.

    As the Weasleys had showed up at Privet Drive in Surrey and waked up Harry, moonshine was reported and as the Ford Anglia reached the Burrows with Harry, it was exactly sunrise.

    But – at 4th August sunrise was in London at 05:29 a.m. and moonset was already at 22.15 p.m. the preceeding day (Greenwich time/summertime) So there is a mistake, since these operation had taken surely much less than 7 hours.

  • Bandersnatch

    Cool, Marco! That one never occurred to me.

    Jo is clearly not interested in trying to be “astronomically accurate” with timing issues like that. One could make comparisons with JRR Tolkien, who was very careful to keep track of moon phases and moonrise/moonset times throughout his Lord of the Rings trilogy. But Tolkien’s characters live in an age and in societies where astronomy is the main way of keeping track of time, and thus looms large in the everyday. (“A star shines on the hour of our meeting.”)

    Like I said in the intro to the essay, it doesn’t bother me one bit to find such inconsistencies. But it’s interesting, and a fun way to teach about astronomy.

  • weirdsis

    Illuminating as always! And thank you for teaching us the REAL definition of LOON. Now we know what we all are! Who else but a bunch of LOONs would spend this much time on the Lexicon?

  • Torill

    Great essay Bandersnatch – very informative! And you are my favorite kind of LOONie – nitpicking for the fun of it, not grumbling about “mistakes” in a story written for entirely other purposes than bringing us a complete lexicon of all possible events in the 90ies, in the heavens or on the earth or anywhere inbetween..

    Can you imagine how crazy we all would have been from waiting for the next book if Jo actually had spent all the time she would have needed to get all those kinds of details right? How far would she have reached in the series by now if she had? Book three?

    But so fun and educational to ponder these things when done from your lighthearted angle – thanks!!!

  • Bandersnatch

    Here’s an amusing tidbit. The faint star named Sinistra (located in the constellation Ophiuchus and also called Nu Ophiuchi) was just about at its highest point in the sky at the end of Harry’s O.W.L. exam.

    You can find it near the bottom of Figure 2 in my essay, a tiny dot that is just above the second S in the label “Serpens Cauda.”

    So Sinistra was watching over her students as they applied the knowledge that she had taught her for the past five years!

  • Moony

    Concerning Sirius, Harry’s godfather and the dog star http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirius , I found something in the mugglenet-series “spinner’s end”. In nr. 21 http://www.mugglenet.com/editorials/spinnersend/se21.shtml , Lady Lupin describes the importance of Sirius (dog star) and his influence on the flooding of the Nile (Egyptian calendar). In the article “Anubis” in wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anubis , I found a little link with this god to The dog star: Anubis was sometimes associated with Sirius in heaven and cerberos in hell. As I’m blind, I can’t observe the stars, but I can read the myths and legends about them. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the story concerning the dog star. The oly thing I found, is that Sirius is told to be Orion’s dog.

  • Mrs. prongs

    wow thanks! thats very intresting, thanks for taking the time to amuse us with such information while we wait for DH!!! 😉 🙂

  • Torill

    Nice one about the dog star and the Nile, Moony – I think I heard something about that too, long time ago…. The flooding of the Nile was of course very important for the Egyptians, as that was what made their soil fertile – but I guess the flood could be dangerous too, so you got a connection with the forces of both life and death. Seems like a good name to give Sirius in the series…

  • Reader2

    So, Sirius was Orion’s dog.
    It seems like these names are Rowling’s way of showing us exactly what kind of relationship her Sirius had with his father.
    Now that’s scary.

  • Torill

    >>>So, Sirius was Orion’s dog.
    It seems like these names are Rowling’s way of showing us exactly what kind of relationship her Sirius had with his father.
    Now that’s scary. – Reader2

    I am not sure I understand what you mean, Reader2 – could you please elaborate?

  • Big_Kelpie

    i think what reader 2 wanted to say is that sirius’ father treated sirius(and possibly regulus) as a pet/dog.. as something somewhat cute and funny we have to feed and look after but they had no real relationship

  • Bandersnatch

    Perhaps also that Orion Black expected obedience and loyalty from his son, and when he ran away, he considered him nothing but a worthless mutt.

  • Reader2

    Big-Keple and Bandersnatch,

    Thank you for taking my words to the next level.
    I didn’t really think that far, to me “a father who treated his son like a dog” sounded like a description enough.

  • Bandersnatch

    Continuing with the name theme, Regulus means “prince” or “little king” in Latin. The younger Black son was their little prince, the one who was loyal to the family name.

  • Reader2

    Does the name “Walburga” have any celestial meaning?
    I haven’t come accross any so far.

  • Bandersnatch

    Not to my knowledge. I’ve assumed that it’s related to Walpurgis night. (Although I’m not really sure what *that* is — anybody know?)

  • Torill

    Isn’t walpurgis the night when the witches assemble to do a black mass and meet with Satan – acccoring to old legends? If it has some new meaning in the wicca religion, I apologise, it might, even if I have not heard of it…
    I am not sure when the date is supposed to be though, so can have some connection to celestial events..

    I am turning a deep magenta red colour here for realising that I forgot Orion was the name of Sirius’ father according to the Black family tree…

  • Bandersnatch

    I looked it up on Wikipedia (usual disclaimers about their accuracy apply). Walpurgis Night is a conglomeration of the Christian holiday commemorating St. Walburga, a female saint, and a pagan holiday when it was believed that witches partied and ghosts appeared and so on. Both festivals took place on the night of April 30 and into the morning on May 1 — exactly half a year away from Halloween.

    Evidently, the famous Fantasia animation to “Night on Bald Mountain” is supposed to take place on Walpurgis Night.

    No astronomical connections as far as I can tell.

  • *waggles finger at Bandersnatch in mock indignation*
    You went to Wikipedia before the Lexicon?! tsk tsk
    click here
    The Knights of Walpurgis was Jo’s original name for the Death Eaters, and there’s a brief explanation at that link, and on the DE page. 🙂

    P.S. Excellent essay my friend! And stay tuned everybody, more of Mike’s fabulous work to be posted soon!

  • Big_Kelpie

    So, jk chose walburga becuase it was a saint whose holiday was mixed with a pagan one.. it seems like she thought that was enough to name a witch after her.

  • Bandersnatch

    >You went to Wikipedia before the Lexicon?! tsk tsk

    Yeah, that was kind of silly, wasn’t it?

  • Moony

    I don’t know exactly what is celebrated during the Walpurgis night. But on Halloween the veil between life and death is believed very thin and penetrable, so it’s a good time for divination e.d. I found this in Lady Lupin’s Spinner’s end 23http://www.mugglenet.com/editorials/spinnersend/se23.shtml She linked Halloween to the Egyptian rituals in this time of the year +their death cults +importance of Sirius. And again, I can’t help sorry, Anubis seemed to tap on my shoulder. Perhaps Sirius could help Harry by bridgeing the worlds of life and death, so that the veil isn’t an obstacle any more? I don’t know.

  • Moony

    Another thought: Voldemort is afraid of the fact he will die, Harry sometimes is asking to be killed (or he seemed to be less afraid of the death than Voldemort is: asked Snape to kill him, thought he would see Sirius and his parents again, …). Harry and Voldemort are like day and night: (cf. Walpurgis night on the 30th of april and Halloween on 31th of october, Voldemort’s birth date on the 31th of december and these of Harry on the 31th of july, …) The only problem is, i’ve lost the astronomical connection. Maybe Firence can help?

  • kamion

    Harry and Voldemort are indeed as day and night, summer and winter. And that is a very old motive in myth and mythology. But in most myths the hero is born in the middle of winter and grow up in ignorance and exile. therefor Voldemort’s birthday as the villan of the story is highly unusual.
    Harry’s birthday has no astronomical connections at all, Jo took her own birthday as his one and there starts and end all the magic.

    Unless she wanted to use the connection with Lamnas or Lughsana, the Celtic feast of August 1, dedicated to the Irish solar-hero Lugh. His Welsh counterpart Lleu Llaw Gyffes was betrayed, killed and reborn to take revenge. If that is material source for Rowling it gives a scary future for Harry.

  • Bandersnatch

    >But in most myths the hero is born in the middle of winter and grow up in ignorance and exile. therefor Voldemort’s birthday as the villan of the story is highly unusual.

    Ah, but Voldemort was born as the old year died. I haven’t researched it, but I would expect that there is some sinister symbolism to that.