October 23, 2015

Hello! I’m Karl Hricko for the United Astronomy Clubs of NJ, and the National Space Society bringing you the October Astronomy Update for the WNTI listening area.

What does Halloween, Ground Hog Day, May Day, and Lammas Day (a harvest day), all have in common? How is Halloween and Astronomy connected? All of these days are labeled as cross-quarter dates. They’re halfway between the equinoxes and solstices. They were set as the beginning of the seasons by ancient cultures. The day we now call “Halloween” was called “Samhain” by the Celts and It was set as the beginning of their winter. It marked the change from light to darkness – from life to death.

It was believed that those who had died the previous year, returned in a final visit. So food was left for them, and fires were lit to help them on their way. Also, disguises were worn to avoid mischievous spirits.

When the Celts were converted to Christianity, they kept their festivals but conformed them to Christian practice. Halloween was originally “All Hallows Eve”. All Hallows means All Saints, so it was the day before All Saints’ Day. Now you can see how Samhain and All Hallows Eve has turned into costumes, candy, and “trick or treat”.

So what type of night sky do we see in this month of the cross quarter day we now call “Halloween”? At sunset, Saturn is barely visible low on the horizon in the southwest in Scorpius. At dawn, although Mercury is lost in the sunrise, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter are lined up in that order from top to bottom in the east. At mid-month, Mars and Jupiter look to be almost on top of each other.

So, as we see a spectacular apparition of planets in our night sky, we know that Halloween and Astronomy are perfect together.

Until our next Astronomy Update – Don’t forget to check out … What’s up in the night sky!