J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, must be a bit of an astronomy buff. She named a number of her characters after stars or constellations, such as Bellatrix, Draco, Regulus, and Sirius. And in her book about Harry’s fifth school year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Rowling even gave Harry an astronomy exam.
What an exam, though! Harry appeared to have an impossible task that night—to note the location of the constellation Orion in the June sky.
Rowling had Harry successfully complete Orion on his star chart, but Orion wasn’t visible in the night sky from anywhere on the planet that month. In June, when viewed from Earth, the stars of Orion lie roughly in the same line of sight as the Sun. So Orion is above the horizon only in the daytime.
To see Orion in the middle of the night in June, Harry must have used some serious magic, possibly whipping the Earth to another place in its orbit around the Sun. Let’s hope he received extra credit.
This week, we’ll use Morehead magic to re-create the night sky on the planetarium dome for two programs about what you can see this summer:
- “Starry Nights: Summer Skies” happens Wednesday, July 20, from 7:30-9 p.m. This version is for adults and teens.
- “Star Families: Summer Skies” happens Saturday, July 23, from 9:30-10:15 a.m. This version is designed especially for families with children ages 7 to 12.
Both programs are aimed at Muggles (non-magic people, in Harry Potter’s world) who want to learn to identify what’s overhead on North Carolina summer nights. Please register online in advance.
During the Summer Skies programs, we'll see Orion's enemy, Scorpius (another Harry Potter character, known to fans who have read to the very end of the series).