Guest Blog: Bucket List Astronomy Class prepares for Astronomy O.W.L. exams

Posted by Nicole Kiefert
on Tuesday, August 29, 2017

By Diane Brewer and Tyler Coleman

Disclaimer: If you’re not up on your Harry Potter trivia, some of this may not make sense. If you’re lost, you could try the Marauder’s Map. Otherwise, Google is your friend.

Professor Aurora Sinistra's Teaching Assistant, Dr. Tim Slater, visits Universal Studios, that is. // photo credit: S. Slater
He looked panicked as he ran in and out of the room.

“Has anyone seen Aurora?! Does anyone know where Professor Sinistra went?!!”

These aren’t exactly the words anyone would expect to come out of their presenter’s mouth, but this is precisely how Dr. Tim Slater (co-author of our lecture tutorials book and avid Harry Potter fan) started his presentation. He framed the entire talk like a review session for our Astronomy O.W.L.s (Ordinary Wizarding Levels), and he even immersed us into the subject during the presentation as if he were the TA for Professor Sinistra’s class, a TA forced to do the review because the professor was nowhere to be found. What we did was a quick, easy, and fun exercise with Jupiter’s four Galilean moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto) – required knowledge for our O.W.L.’s!

It was really, really fun.

Dr. Slater has as much energy as Dr. Stephanie Slater, his wife, who also presented that day, and as much passion for teaching about the cosmos. While the presentation started out heavy on the Harry Potter references, it transitioned into astronomy seamlessly and left all of us enthralled. Energetic introductions are absolutely the way to go if you want to keep a captive, sleep-deprived, university-student-aged audience attentive. And things from pop culture (like the Harry Potter series), is a great way of doing that. It’s just a matter of hoping that the audience is into it. Fortunately, most of us were into Harry Potter.

Having something like this to latch onto is really important after listening to various lectures every day for several days in a row. Brains start to fry. Words become meaningless sounds. Nothing makes sense.

The Black Family Tree
For the science-y bit of his presentation, Dr. Slater started by pointing out the stars and constellations that were “named after famous Hogwarts alumni.” Or, more accurately, the ones that inspired the names of many characters. As an easy example, the vast majority of the Noble House of Black (the Black family) are named after these. There are major characters like Sirius and Bellatrix, but also less well-known ones like Regulus Arcturus. Two other examples are Draco Malfoy (named after the constellation Draco) and Andromeda Tonks (named after the Andromeda galaxy).

After honoring the alumni, Dr. Slater transitioned into just how gigantic our solar system is, then to Jupiter’s moons. I had no idea there were at least 67 of them! His presentation focused only on the four Galilean moons, going into the geography of each and how they are affected by orbiting Jupiter. Io is the closest orbiting moon, and it has an aurora on both north and south poles along with being the most active moon due to being so violently churned around its orbit by Jupiter. Europa is the second orbiting moon, and with liquid water under its surface of ice. Europa has been found to have jets of hot gas coming through the ice making astronomers wonder about life under the surface. Ganymede, the largest of Jupiter’s moons, is also the third farthest orbiting. Callisto is the farthest orbiting Galilean moon, and it is the most stable (and therefore bland) of the four. Because of its far orbit, it is not pushed and pulled by Jupiter as much as the other moons and therefore it has no tectonic or volcanic activity. 

All in all, Dr. Slater helped make sure BLAsT Class is ready for their O.W.L.’s! Now if we could just find Professor Sinistra…

To leave a comment you must be a member of our community.
Login to your account now, or register for an account to start participating.
No one has commented yet.
Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.


Receive news, sky-event information, observing tips, and more from Astronomy's weekly email newsletter. View our Privacy Policy.

Find us on Facebook