“Potterversity” Episode 44: “The Stars Are Bright”

Venture to infinity and beyond for a look at astronomy in the wizarding world.



We’re joined by Jane Bright, a PhD candidate in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Arizona. Astronomy is the one subject wizards and Muggles seem to have in common. Why is it important enough to be a required subject at Hogwarts, and how is it different from the astrology that is part of Divination? Jane has some theories regarding the historical split between disciplines and the usefulness of astronomical knowledge in ritual magic. As a bonus, wizards may actually be learning some math!

Astronomy is present in the wizarding world outside of the classroom as well. Dumbledore’s watch, for instance, shows the movements of stars and planets, and a room in the Department of Mysteries appears to be devoted to the study of space. Magical telescopes seem old-fashioned, but wizards must be keeping up with Muggle scientific advances if they know about planets and phenomena that were discovered after wizards went into hiding.

Jane gives us insight into the astronomical names common among Harry Potter characters and connects astronomy to alchemy, going all the way back to the Big Bang at the dawn of the universe to discover a celestial Sorcerer’s Stone. This comparison could potentially be useful for wizards as a form of representational magic, helping them to understand natural processes that relate to the magic they want to perform and thus make it more powerful. 

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Laurie Beckoff

My Harry Potter journey began in 2000 when I was six and continued through a bachelor's thesis and master's dissertation on medievalism in the series. I'm a Gryffindor from New York City with a passion for theatre, fantasy, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.