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The Harry Potter Objects - a year-round literary stargazing project

It’s just a few days until Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, ‘Part 2′ opens, so I am updating my literary stargazing project. I even added a few new objects to the list. So head up to the astronomy tower at your own Hogwarts and look up into the summer night sky. Did you buy a telescope at the telescope shop in Diagon Alley like Harry Potter’s collapsible brass telescope? If not, don’t worry, most of these objects can be seen just using your eyes. Have fun and let me know if you complete your O.W.L. – in Literary Stargazing.

Here is a July 2011 star chart where you can find many of the constellations and stars listed below. Use it to find the summer Harry Potter objects such as the constellations Draco, Cygnus and Scorpius, plus stars Arcturus and Sinestra (in the constellation Ophiuchus – it’s the star at the end of the arm holding the snake Serpens Cauda). The constellation Phoenix is a challenging object in the southern sky — try looking for it in November. Many of these objects are best seen at other times of the year. Make your own StarWheel and find out when and where to look.

This article was researched, compiled, written and observed by Jane Houston Jones, Caroline Sakaguchi Kunioka, Elizabeth and Catherine Spiers. More about the authors at the end of the article.

The authors demonstrating a girl cluster

Elizabeth, Caroline, Catherine and Jane form a girl cluster before observing the Harry Potter Objects

What do Sirius, Arcturus and Pollux have in common, besides being the brightest stars in their respective constellations? They are all characters in the popular Harry Potter books! Translated into over 70 languages, these books have universal appeal, and this project paves the way to introduce amateur astronomy to a new generation of stargazers.

This list might be just the “hook” to get your favorite muggle or wizard to step outside for a night of stargazing. “Come see Sirius Black’s star” or “Let’s try to find Draco Malfoy’s constellation” could be the beginning of a family, museum, planetarium, or community star party. Or head over to your favorite bookstore, library or movie theater for some sidewalk astronomy, especially if Luna is in the sky.

The Harry Potter Objects
Observe and/or read about these objects for your honorary O.W.L. – Ordinary Wizarding Level award in Literary Stargazing

Sirius – Sirius Black
Arcturus – Arcturus Black
Regulus – Regulus Black
Pollux – Pollux Black
Alphard – Alphard Black
Bellatrix – Bellatrix (Black) Lestrange
Merope – Merope (Gaunt) Riddle
Sinistra – Professor Aurora Sinistra, Astronomy Professor
Eta Argus – Argus Filch
Rastaban – Rastaban Lestrange
Cygnus – Cygnus Black
Orion – Orion Black
Andromeda – Andromeda aka Dromeda (Black) Tonks
Cassiopeia – Cassiopeia Black is the Great Aunt of Sirius Black
Draco – Draco Malfoy
Scorpius – Scorpius Malfoy
Luna – Luna Lovegood
Phoenix – The Order of the Phoenix
Aquila – Ravenclaw animal is a golden eagle
Leo – Gryffindor animal is a golden lion
Serpens, Hydra – Slytherin animal is a silver snake
Vulpecula, Lynx, Lupus – Hufflepuff animal is a badger. The Fox, Lynx and Wolf constellations are the closest to a badger.

Read about these additional objects and you will earn your honorary N.E.W.T. – Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests award in Advanced Literary Stargazing.

Albus 1 – Albus Dumbledore
Amycus 55576 – Amycus Carrow is a Death Eater
Ginevra 613 – Ginevra (Ginny) Weasley
Hermione 121 – Hermione Granger
Fenrir – Fenrir Greyback

Here is the detail on each object and each character from the books or from the Genealogy charts:

Sirius – Alpha Canis Majoris From Orion, look south and to the east to find brilliant Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Sirius is also the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog. Canis Major is Orion’s larger hunting dog. Sirius is only 8.6 light years away, making it a popular “birthday star” for your favorite 8-year old. It’s a white class A (A1) hydrogen-fusing main sequence dwarf, shining at magnitude -1.46. Best seen in the winter.

Sirius Black is Harry Potter’s godfather. Sirius can turn himself into a black dog. His nickname, Padfoot, is a name North Englanders have for the magical black dogs who guard graveyards and can vanish instantly.

Arcturus – Alpha Boötis Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Boötes. Arcturus, the “Bear Watcher,” follows Ursa Major, the Great Bear, around the pole. Arcturus is 37 light years away. It is a classic orange class K (K1) giant star shining at –0.04. Best seen in the summer.

Arcturus Black is Sirius Black’s grandfather

Regulus – Alpha Leonis Regulus is the heart of Leo the Lion. At a distance of only 77 light years, it shines in our sky at magnitude 1.35. In Latin it means “the little king”. Regulus is bluish-white class B (B7) main sequence star. Best seen in the spring.

Regulus Black is Sirius Black’s younger and more beloved brother. Readers never meet him directly. Regulus became a Death Eater at the age of 16. Regulus Black was stronger, braver and more like his brother than anyone knew. Regulus, the star, is the heart of the lion, which is the sign of the house of Griffindor.

Pollux – Beta Geminorum Pollux is a star with a planet, and one of the “twin” stars Castor and Pollux of the constellation Gemini. They are twins in mythology only. Pollux is an orange-colored cool class K (K0) giant with a planet is 34 light years away, while Castor is white and 50 light years away. The planet orbiting Pollux has a mass 3 times that of Jupiter, orbits in a nearly circular path at a average distance of 1.69 Astronomical Units (11 percent farther than Mars is from the Sun) with a period of 590 days (1.6 years). Best seen in the winter.

Pollux Black – the maternal grandfather of Sirius Black.

Alphard – Alpha Hydrae Alphard is not well known, but is surprisingly prominent. Alphard dominates the dim constellation Hydra, the Water Serpent, where it marks the heart of the snake. The star is an orange class K (K3) giant 175 light years away, shining at magnitude 1.98. It is found in a blank area of the sky, and its Arabic name means “the solitary one.” Best seen in the spring.

Alphard Black – Sirius Black’s uncle. He left his money to Sirius. For this gesture, he was disowned by the Black family. He is represented by a burn mark on the family tapestry. Readers find that very few Blacks loved Sirius, and so perhaps, Alphard’s name is fitting. It is also interesting that Alphard Black was a student in the house of Slytherin.

Bellatrix – Gamma Orionis Bellatrix is a blue-white and luminous star shining at magnitude 1.64. It is one of the hotter naked eye stars, at the hot end of class B (B2) and is 240 light years distant. The name Bellatrix translates from Latin as “the female warrior”, and sometimes the “Amazon Star.” Best seen in the winter.

Bellatrix (Black) Lestrange – Sirius Black’s cousin and killer. She spent time in Azkaban prison for giving Unforgivable Curses and for torturing Frank and Alice Longbottom.

Merope – or 23 Tauri, one of the Pleiades. Merope shines at a faint 4.18 magnitude and is 385 light years distant. The Pleiades is a cluster of brilliant blue white class B (B6) stars. They are named for the daughters of Atlas and Pleione. Merope is 4th in brightness and is famous for its surrounding cloud of dusty gas which is named the Merope Nebula, or IC 349. The Pleiades stars are not hot enough to ionize the gas and make it glow. Instead, the dust grains embedded in the cloud scatter and reflect the starlight, and we see this starlight as the Pleiades Reflection nebula. Originally thought to be a remnant of the stellar birth, it is really a chance encounter. The cluster is passing through a random interstellar cloud, and the Pleiades leave a wake as the cloud rushes by. Best seen in winter.

Merope (Gaunt) Riddle – Merope tricked Tom Riddle into marrying her with a love potion. Later she gave birth to a son at a Muggle orphanage and died after naming her child Tom Marvolo Riddle. Merope Gaunt is named after a stunningly apt myth. Merope was the youngest of the sisters and the only one to marry a mortal. Accounts differ as to whether she hid herself in shame or whether her star faded away as a result.

Sinistra – Nu Ophiuchi Sinistra is a magnitude 3.5 orange spectral class K (KO) star in the constellation Ophiuchus. It carries the traditional Latin name Sinistra, meaning “left” or “left hand” despite the fact that Nu Ophiuchi marks the Serpent Bearer’s right hand. It is 155 light years from Earth. Best seen in the summer. To find Sinistra on the star chart, look for where the constellation Ophiuchus intersects Serpens Cauda. think of that as the hand of Ophiuchus, grasping the serpent.

Professor Aurora Sinistra teaches Astronomy at Hogwarts. The class is taught at midnight in the highest tower at Hogwarts offering the best view of the night sky. Students study the night sky to chart the stars, moons, and planets. For homework, students have made models of the planets, moons, and stars. Her first name “Aurora” implies the professor is a “light” witch, not a practitioner of the dark arts, and a student of the skies.

Eta Argus was formerly in the constellation Argus, now part of the keel of the constellation, Carina. English astronomer Francis Abbot was sentenced to 7 years transportation, and sent to Hobart Town,Tasmania to serve his sentence in 1844. After serving his sentence he became a flourishing businessman and respected astronomer, who was the first to draw attention to the changes in the variable star Eta Argus. This star is now known as Eta Carinae or Eta Carina. Since this object is visible to observers in the southern hemisphere, you can observe the beautiful Hubble image instead.

Argus Filch is the Hogwarts caretaker. He’s a cantankerous, nasty man who detests the students.

Rastaban – Beta Draconis Rastaban is the third brightest star in the constellation of Draco. It is a G-type giant star, with spectral class G2 and an apparent visual magnitude of approximately 2.79. Its distance from the Sun is around 360 light years. It is a binary star, with a binary star designation of ADS 10611, in which the supergiant is orbited by a dwarf companion once every four millennia or so.

Bellatrix Lestrange’s brother-in-law is Rabastan Lestrange. (I know the spelling is different)

Cygnus
Cygnus Black is Sirius Black’s Uncle

Orion
Orion Black is the Father of Sirius and Regulus Black

Andromeda
Andromeda (Black), a pure-blood witch was the widow of Ted Tonks, mother of Nymphadora Tonks, who preferred to be called Tonks or sometimes Dora. She was the mother-in-law of Remus Lupin and grandmother of Ted Lupin. She was Sirius Black’s favorite cousin

Cassiopeia
Cassiopeia Black is the Great Aunt of Sirius Black

Draco
Draco Malfoy is a Slytherin student and Harry Potter’s arch enemy.

Scorpius
Scorpius Malfoy – son to Draco, referred to in epilogue.

Luna – The name “Luna” is Latin for the moon.

Luna Lovegood is a student in Ravenclaw and in Ginny Weasley’s class. She is absentminded and has unconventional patterns of thought. The moon was once thought to induce insanity, but we now know it induces observing enjoyment. Luna’s nickname is Loony.

Phoenix
Order of the Phoenix – The Order is a group of witches and wizards, led by Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, dedicated to fighting evil Lord Voldemort and his followers.

Aquila is the animal of the Ravenclaw House
Leo is the animal of the Gryffindor Gouse
Serpens, Hydra is the animal of the Slytherin House
Vulpecula, Lynx, Lupus reminds us of the badger, who has no constellation, Hufflepuff’s animal.

Extra Credit – these are some challenging or impossible objects to see. But they have a Harry Potter connection, so they are fun to learn about.

Amycus 55576 is a Centaur – half asteroid, half comet.
Amycus Carrow is a Death Eater.

Ginevra 613 Ginevra is a minor planet orbiting the Sun.
Ginevra Molly “Ginny” Weasley is a pure-blood witch, and the first female to be born into the Weasley line for several generations.

Hermione 121 is an asteroid I have actually seen through my own telescope, during an occultation. Here is more information about Hermione, the asteroid.
Hermione Jean Granger is a Muggle-born Gryffindor student

Albus 1 – A Very Bright White Dwarf Candidate. Albus 1 is a DA-type white dwarf located at about 40 pc. If its nature is confirmed, Albus 1 would be the sixth brightest isolated white dwarf in the sky, which would make it an excellent spectrophotometric standard.

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore – headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Fenrir is a moon of Saturn. Retrograde satellites are named after Norse giants.
Fenrir Greyback is the name of a violent werewolf whose allegiance lies with the Death Eaters.

About the authors/observers: Jane Houston Jones wrote the astronomy segments and edited the whole writeup. Caroline Sakaguchi Kunioka researched and wrote the Potter segments, edited Jane’s edits and came up with the idea in the first place. Elizabeth and Catherine are our younger sidewalk astronomers, both with their own telescopes. Elizabeth is an avid Potter fan who contributed Potter lore and lots of details to the project. Catherine enjoyed looking for the objects in the night sky, and helped field test the list at our favorite desert observing locations. All four of us are active members of the Old Town Sidewalk Astronomers, and we all love to read books, too.

18 comments to The Harry Potter Objects – a year-round literary stargazing project – Updated July 2011

  • What a wonderful resource. Thank you all so much. It makes me wonder if Rowling is a really enthusiastic amateur astronomer or if she just did a great deal of research. I’m particulaly charmed with the wonderfully appropriate name Merope.

  • Thanks!! Yes, I think of poor Merope every time I see the Pleiades now. :-) I like the Draco/Slytherin, Leo/Griffendor connections too. I go have listed more of the obscure references(and creatures, and the astronomy quiz) but stuck to mostly character names. The others are in gazetteers, and other references already. :-)

  • Marie

    This is great! I’ve often pointed out some of the more obvious “Harry Potter stars” to folks at our sidewalk astronomy sessions but this is much more detailed and should be lots of fun as part of a sky tour. One question, is there any easy way to get this to print out? I’d love to use it as a handout at some of our scout events.

  • I agree, it is a pain to print out an online blog, at least this one. I haven’t fiddled around with the format, or styles. I’d suggest copying the text and putting it in a word or text format. Maybe I’ll do that and provide a link to it. Stay tuned – it would be nice to have it as a handout, I agree. Jane

  • Alice in SF

    Very impressive. But I believe there’s an error. The character whose nickname is Tonks, the shape-shifter fighter in the Order of the Phoenix, is the daughter of Andromeda Tonks. Andromeda Tonks is called Dromeda, and her valiant daughter is named Nymphadora. She hates the name, and tells everyone to call her Tonks.

  • Thanks – nice thing about a blog is the ability to edit. Will check it out and correct it. :-) Thanks!! ;-) Jane

  • Mike Weinstein

    Nice job with this. I teach astronomy and used to run a small planetarium, so I have also used these Harry Potter connections as teaching moments.

    It’s worth mentioning that several of the Blacks on your list (Arcturus, Pollux, Cygnus, Cassiopeia, and Orion) are not actually mentioned in the books themselves, but rather in a geneology of the Black family that Rowling wrote up for a charity auction. (It was bought by Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who plays Harry Potter in the films!) A copy can be found here (http://www.hp-lexicon.org/wizards/blackfamilytree.html), and your die-hard fans may know this, but others who have only read the book or seen the films may find this information new to them. (Arcturus is also Regulus Black’s middle name, though, and that is most definitely in the books.)

    A couple of errors I wanted to bring to your attention for future edits. In your initial list of the Harry Potter objects, you list a Cassiopeia Trelawney. Hogwarts Divination professor Trelawney had a famous ancestor named Cassandra (mentioned in Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 37), but I am unaware of a Cassiopeia. (Maybe this is a vestige from a previous draft — I notice that in your more detailed listing, Cassiopeia is instead listed as a Black, which is correct according to Rowling’s family tree.) And Hermione has “Io” in her name (she did know that Io was covered with volcanoes, after all); you’ve spelled it Hermoine.

  • Thanks, made most changes, but in a hurry to get to Palomar Observatory for a weekend observing trip. Will check more when I have time. Movie was great and many of theusual suspects – astro characters – appeared including Amycus and Fenrir. :-) Jane

  • Jill

    I’m trying to find out about a name refered to in one of the Harry Potter books or films that the first three letter are Sam____ not sure about the rest of the letters (might be a dwarf or other character) Could someone help me. Thanks!

  • This is an astronomy article, not a gazeteer. I googled and came up with this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Harry_Potter_characters I don’t see any character with Sam as first three letters. I’d google and maybe you’ll find more.

  • Dear Jane,

    Congratulations! I simply can not digest all of your creativity as a star gazer. I was looking for references of the Televue Ranger and got to you. You are certainly a one of a kind person with a tremendous amount of nice things to share among all of the people who might be interested to peek into the vastness of our universe! Would love to have a portrait of you and your Televue to show to our local group on our next meeting. I have contact with youngsters as I am a father of a boy (3) and a baby girl (about to be born) so the Harry Potter references result appealing! May all your pursuits and wishes come true.

    Kind regards from Mexico,
    Edgardo.

  • Thanks for your nice comments! Here is a picture of me and my Televue Ranger. http://photo.whiteoaks.com/2009-galileo&me/slides/janeranger.html You could print it out I suppose. :-) Here is what it looked like yesterday: http://twitpic.com/gn8x0 (It is all better now.)

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=30260538&l=d404241d89&id=1522362890 Here’s one more. Bye!

  • Dear Jane,

    Thank you. I have browsed all of your postings and found Mojo is a lot like myself (or the other way around). My wife Joy laughed a lot for the similarities. I am also a ham radio operator and exhaust my hobbies like astronomy, astrophotography and computer science like he does. I also make a living out of Internet servers. http://www.iptel.net.mx. Would love to meet you both some day (will keep my fingers crossed). I have a brother living in LA and visit him twice a year. I also visit San Diego frequently for a secondary server node. Joy would love some day to take the trip from S.F. to Alaska just like you did! A lot in common and and a political border in the middle. How I feel fortunate to have contacted such an interesting and nice couple after looking for TV Ranger references on the net. Just love how life make our paths cross. I have an astronomy group called Pleiades. We just started last year with a web page, unfortunately now only in spanish but will soon be translating everything. http://www.pleiades.org.mx. Will look forward to contact you by email instead of leaving comments so distant now from those on this thread. My apologies for that! I promise to prepare a Harry Potter Marathon for youngsters and kids as weather improves and will let you know about the results. Hope you don´t mind landing your nice ideas to work. The credit will be all yours! Thank you for the nice photos. Have a nice week.

    Best regards!

    Edgardo

  • Nope no star named after any Potters or other characters, the potter characters were named after stars or constellations. The stars were there in the sky way before the Harry Potter books. :-) Jane

  • Hi Edwardo – I’ll pass your nice comments on to Mojo. :-) In my day job at NASA I do a monthly podcast about the night sky: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/whatsup.cfm You can email be at work jane.h.jones@jpl.nasa.gov Hi to your wife Joy too! Take care! Jane

  • Jarad

    Hi Jane -
    My daughter’s girlscout group is going to a Hogwarts weekend campout (one of the girlscouts camps is running it). They are dividing up into houses, having a House Cup contest, etc. I plan to use this as a guide for doing a star party on the second night of the campout for them. I think I’ll give out house points based on how many of the OWL and NEWT objects they can point out with my green “wand”.

    Thanks for putting this together!

    Jarad

  • Caroline Sakaguchi Kunioka

    Hey, Jane, my name has been misspelled all these years! It’s saKaguchi – s. a. K!

    Thanks! :( (Always wondered why I could never find this under my name…)

  • Yikes! And fixed this am. It was spelled correctly in the tag words, which is used for search.

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