The magic of astronomy

When I was a kid I was fascinated by magic. I don't think I ever thought that magic tricks were real; they were just that - tricks - and I always wanted to know how they were done. I had a Paul Daniels magic set and I would watch magic shows on TV looking for strings, trapdoors or clever camera angles. As I grew older, that desire to understand how stuff works has remained with me but now it gets called science.

Most kids are interested in magic. You only have to look at the numbers of kids around the world that have read the Harry Potter books over the past few years. The series is a phenomena and the books have been translated into numerous languages including Latin and Welsh. Surprisingly perhaps, the books contain quite a few astronomical references.

I first really noticed this while going to primary schools with an inflatable planetarium. Inside the planetarium I usually describe the constellation of Orion and show how the stars of the belt point down to Sirius. These days this elicits whispers of 'Oooh, Sirius Black' from the children as they sit in the dark. For those of you that haven't read Harry Potter, Sirius Black becomes quite an important character and can turn himself into a large black dog. Conveniently, this lets me explain that Sirius is also known as the dog star and is in the constellation of the Big Dog (Canis Major). However, Sirius Black is not alone as there are other characters with celestial names; Andromeda Tonks, Bellatrix LeStrange, Draco Malfoy and Regulus Black. Perhaps I should thank J.K. Rowling for all these modern aides-memoire.

The next book - book 6 of 7 - is due out at 00.01 BST this Saturday. In the UK, bookshops open up at midnight on the day of launch so that thousands of eager children can get their copy. With thousands of kids having permission to be awake in the middle of the night (accompanied by their parents of course) wouldn't it be fantastic if they could combine a star party with buying the book? If they live in the north west of England they can. Jodrell Bank Observatory's Visitor Centre is having a combined star party and book launch this Friday night. There will be a solar telescope (for seeing the Sun before it sets), optical telescopes (perhaps having a look for SN2005cs), astronomers to answer those difficult questions, a 3D trip to Mars, a planetarium, face painting and more. The magic starts at 9.00 pm BST Friday and goes on until 0.30 am BST Saturday. If you want to attend, you should book in advance with the Visitor Centre.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 13th Jul 2005 (23:33 UTC) | Permalink
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