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What does the centaurs Ronan and Bane's statement of "Mars is bright tonight" mean?

Ronan sighed. He flung back his head and stared at the sky. ‘Mars is bright tonight.’
Philosopher's Stone - page 184 - Bloomsbury - chapter 15, The Forbidden Forest


Bane walked over to stand next to Ronan. He looked skywards.
‘Mars is bright tonight,’ he said simply.
‘We’ve heard,’ said Hagrid grumpily.
Philosopher's Stone - page 185 - Bloomsbury - chapter 15, The Forbidden Forest

What does this mean? What does this mean in relation to Harry? Was there some kind of significance behind "Mars is bright tonight"?

A canon-based answer would be great!

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I imagine it has more do with astrology canon than HP canon. – Tacroy Nov 28 '12 at 20:11
@Tacroy - Is it fair of me to take "I imagine" to mean you're giving an opinion? Which is totally fine, but I'd just like to know. :) – Slytherincess Nov 28 '12 at 21:06
Considering the level of ambiguity to which JKR assigns centaurs, especially when dealing with astrology, I highly doubt there is a canon answer. Even from the "horse's mouth" so to speak, the best answer one could hope for would likely be "humans do not understand enough of the skies to comprehend...etc. etc." – NominSim Nov 28 '12 at 21:23
@NominSim - Well, for example, the last thing Firenze says as he lets Harry off his back is, "‘Good luck, Harry Potter. The planets have been read wrongly before now, even by centaurs. I hope this is one of those times.’ And there are several other things the centaurs say. I'm just curious if it's possible to piece these bits together for an idea of what the centaurs meant. Perhaps a better way to put it is "an answer based in the spirit of canon would be great." And you always doubt there is a canon answer ;) :D I'm joking with you ... :) – Slytherincess Nov 29 '12 at 1:52
up vote 25 down vote accepted

The answer actually comes four years later in The Order of the Phoenix chapter 27: The Centaur and the Sneak, when Harry goes to his first Divination class with Firenze:

Firenze pointed to the red star directly above Harry.

"In the past decade, the indications have been that wizardkind is living through nothing more than a brief calm between two wars. Mars, bringer of battle, shines brightly above us, suggesting that the fight must soon break out again. How soon, centaurs may attempt to divine by the burning of certain herbs and leaves."

So in Harry Potter, the centaurs view Mars "burning bright" pretty much the same as it has been viewed in astrology historically. It's a "bringer of battle" (probably because it's red) and a symbol of war.

In relation to Harry, Mars burning bright that night may specifically have been a warning of his encounter with Voldemort the same night, which was a sort of battle. I doubt, however, that the centaurs would ever say anything so certain.

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So he points to a red star talking about Mars? Rowling really needs to learn the difference between a star and a planet. – phantom42 Dec 4 '12 at 21:11
@phantom42 Mars the planet or Mars, bringer of battle? – AncientSwordRage Dec 4 '12 at 21:32
Third base! (Sorry, it had to be said.) We start getting into the metaphors again. Clearly Mars, the god and the bringer of war is not literally blazing above them - but Mars the planet is not a star and it irks me to see Rowling referring to it as such. – phantom42 Dec 4 '12 at 21:35
@phantom42 On the other hand, to the average person who looks up at night and sees it, Mars looks like a red star. Poetic license, if you will. Harry probably did just think of it as a red star until it was named by Firenze... – Izkata Dec 4 '12 at 23:55
The person complaining that they are irked by jkr talking about planets showing as stars, I took astronomy in 2011 and we learned that planets actually are visible and they look like bright stars. You can't tell what color they are but I remember when I had that class the teacher asked us to monitor the skies and I femember walking home every evening to see mars being the shiniest "star" in the orange sky. It didn't last long, it followed the sun as it set so when planets are visible, they look exactly like stars. You can google and find what planets are visible to use at what time of day or n – user14997 Jun 2 '13 at 18:17

I have no canon references to back me up, but there are a number of conversations across the web which generally agree with my thought:

"Mars" is a reference to the Roman god of war. In these scenes, they have recently learned of Quirrel sneaking through the forest and drinking unicorn blood. The centaurs know war is coming. Metaphorically, the god of war is starting to show himself.

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IIRC, Mars has no direct war connotation in astrology. IANAA, though – DVK-in-exile Nov 28 '12 at 23:51
@DVK Does JKR know that? – Dason Nov 29 '12 at 0:12
I think if the answer depends on what JKR knows about astrology, then the question might be Not Constructive... – Ward Nov 29 '12 at 3:48

These answers seem like they're probably accurate, I just wanted to add that I saw a post where someone suggested that the centaurs knew Harry would die in the forbidden forest killed by Voldemort, just not when, and that's why the others were angry that Firenze interfered. They thought it could have been that night that he was supposed to die.

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“Mars is bright tonight.” This is one of the first prophecies that we come across in the series, and the meaning is quite plain: Mars is the Roman god of war. War is coming. And, as we all know, it did.

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The already accepted answer on this one says just that. You've added nothing new to the post. -1 – Stan Oct 10 '13 at 10:10

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