How was Harry able to see the constellation, Orion, in the middle of summer in the far northern hemisphere? Did they use magic?

  • 107
    I'm guessing Rowling is no better with astronomy than she is with math...
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Mar 26, 2021 at 11:48
  • 9
    Even nerds don't always check for accuracy. It's a fantasy book, not sci fi, like conservation of momentum and brooms is ignored.
    – user138356
    Mar 26, 2021 at 11:57
  • 33
    Well I know what G.R.R. Martin would say to this question-- "put down your ruler and just enjoy the story." Mar 26, 2021 at 13:33
  • 9
    Dissecting stories can be enjoyable also.
    – user138356
    Mar 26, 2021 at 14:37
  • 10
    Maybe Harry just sucks at Astronomy? Mar 27, 2021 at 6:02

3 Answers 3


I believe this is a mistake by Rowling

The O.W.L. exams are taken in June:

...June had arrived, but to the fifth years this meant only one thing: Their O.W.L.s were upon them at last.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Chapter 31: O.W.L.s

When Harry goes to take his Astronomy exam, it is 11pm:

When they reached the top of the Astronomy Tower at eleven o’clock they found a perfect night for stargazing
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Chapter 31: O.W.L.s

The entries they make on their charts are implied to be what they are currently observing:

Professors Marchbanks and Tofty strolled among them, watching as they entered the precise positions of the stars and planets they were observing.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Chapter 31: O.W.L.s

I believe this quote suggests Harry was previously looking at Orion, before making an adjustment to look at Venus:

As Harry completed the constellation Orion on his chart, however, the front doors of the castle opened directly below the parapet where he was standing, so that light spilled down the stone steps a little way across the lawn. Harry glanced down as he made a slight adjustment to the position of his telescope and saw five or six elongated shadows moving over the brightly lit grass before the doors swung shut and the lawn became a sea of darkness once more.
Harry put his eye back to his telescope and refocused it, now examining Venus.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Chapter 31: O.W.L.s

He 'completed the constellation Orion on his chart', makes 'a slight adjustment to the position of his telescope' before 'now examining Venus'. I think this string of events heavily implies he was actually looking at Orion.

Using a planisphere, I can confirm that the constellation Orion is not visible in the June sky in the Northern Hemisphere at 11pm. In fact, it doesn't appear in the sky at all in the hours that it would be dark in Scotland in June, from around 10pm to 5am. From quotes, his exam seems to take around 2 hours, but this is beside the point - his exam could have lasted the entire night and he still wouldn't have been able to see it. There are no quotes saying magic is used for observations during the exam, so I think it's safe to rule that out. It is simply a mistake on the author's part.

I can't say this with 100% confidence, but I've a suspicion that he couldn't see Venus then either given he's observing it after 11pm, and a June 1996 astronomy almanac makes no mention of it.

  • 3
    " I think this string of events heavily implies he was actually looking at Orion." Thanks for the quotes. I agree, that's a solid implication.
    – Jontia
    Mar 26, 2021 at 14:07
  • 12
    @user14094230 Unfortunately, I couldn't find any comment from Rowling regarding this particular issue. With the lack of any comment from her, and no quotes from the book explaining why Orion is visible, I can only surmise this is an error on the author's part, which I have then provided quotes and evidence for to substantiate it as a mistake. Sometimes the answers on Sci-Fi SE are just 'we don't know' or 'it's a mistake', sorry I couldn't help you any further. You never know, another user might come across something more useful, but I am doubtful.
    – Ongo
    Mar 26, 2021 at 14:44
  • 2
    @Ross Out of pure interest I actually looked a fair bit into this, and it is possible to see Venus around 00:00 in Scotland but in quite specific circumstances, and certainly not in June 1996, but I don't want to commit to it 100% as explaining it is probably an answer/question for somewhere more like Astronomy SE. But you are correct, it is essentially impossible anywhere in the UK.
    – Ongo
    Mar 26, 2021 at 23:59
  • 7
    Honestly, June is the worst possible time to do any kind of stargazing in northern Europe anyway. I'm not sure how well the latitude of Hogwarts has been specified, but even at the southernmost point of Scotland there's no true night at all, and even astronomical twilight won't start until well after 11 pm. And it gets worse the further north you go. Mar 27, 2021 at 0:52
  • 3
    @IlmariKaronen: I love the summer months for sidewalk astronomy. I can ask passers-by if they'd like to see the the double cluster, the double double, the Andromeda galaxy, or, when visible, the Moon, Saturn or Jupiter. They typically don't know what on Earth I'm talking about, and only want to eat their ice cream alone. 30s later, they're screaming like little children because they see Saturn rings for the first time. Mar 27, 2021 at 14:23

As @user14094230 already added in his comment, the exact quote from the book is:

As Harry completed the constellation Orion on his chart, (...)

The most probable reason for that passage is that JKR sucks at astronomy.

But trying to find an in-universe answer, I would say that Harry simply made an error on his star chart. He was just a student taking an exam, from which he received "A" note (the lowest of pass grades). Astronomy has never been of Harry's high interest. It's likely he confused some other constellation with Orion, but most of his star chart was correct.

  • 13
    To be fair, completing a constellation on your chart does not require it to be in front of you. It could be part of the test to complete the constellations that are not visible based on the ones you can see. But that's reaching a bit.
    – Jontia
    Mar 26, 2021 at 12:51
  • 11
    Unlikely that he mistook it. Orion is one of the brightest and most easily recognized constellations. Mar 26, 2021 at 14:04
  • 12
    @InvisibleTrihedron - Hence his shitty mark in the exam, surely?
    – Valorum
    Mar 26, 2021 at 14:06
  • 15
    @InvisibleTrihedron Harry once wrote in an essay that Europa is covered with mice, do you remember? That makes confusing Orion a minor mistake... Mar 26, 2021 at 14:34
  • 4
    Or alternatively, rather than "JKR sucks at astronomy", maybe ... "JKR recognises that the astronometrical accuracy of that passage is utterly irrelevant and has no significance whatsoever".
    – Brondahl
    Mar 28, 2021 at 8:45

I mean, JKR also doesn't understand that after the spring equinox, the days are longer the further North you are. In Deathly Hallows, when they're at shell cottage and Harry reads Voldemort's mind, he sees Hogsmeade which is "still dark, because it was so much further North" (quoting from memory, so probs not exact), but it's Easter, which is after the spring equinox, so it gets light earlier further North. In other words, JKR generally doesn't understand that stuff in the sky changes depending on the time of year.

  • 2
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. While everything you say is correct, this isn't as directed at the question as it should be; it reads more like a response to another answer, instead of standing on its own. ("No, she doesn't explain it but...")
    – DavidW
    Mar 29, 2021 at 13:27
  • @DavidW It seems to me to be an answer, it's giving another time where JKR doesn't understand things like this and then ends with essentially the answer. Admittedly it could be a bit more explicit.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Mar 29, 2021 at 14:37
  • 2
    @TheLethalCarrot I agree with you. I tried to say that it had good information, but could stand some minor editing to make it clear that it stood on its own, instead of replying to other answers.
    – DavidW
    Mar 29, 2021 at 14:40

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