Find the scariest star in the sky in October
Soon our streets will be filled with ghosts, monsters, witches, superheroes and princesses as we prepare to celebrate Halloween.
You don’t often see astronomers or even a Hubble Telescope costume, although Halloween is an astronomical holiday.
Halloween (October 31) is a crossed date, which means it is halfway between an equinox and a solstice. The other dates crossed during the year are Groundhog Day (February 2), May 1 (May 1) and Lammas Day (August 1).
Each is a minor holiday, with May 1 being a celebration of spring and Lamma Day observed in Britain as a harvest festival.
Cross days are one of the eight major subdivisions each year, which also include the March and September equinoxes and the June and December solstices.
Halloween is the darkest of the inter-neighborhood days. Imagine living before clocks and calendars. Measuring the passage of time was an astronomical task.
Long ago, the Celts of the British Isles used crossed quarter days to mark the start of seasons. The winter season started on Halloween or All Saints’ Day. The Celts celebrated with a festival called Samhain. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and marked the transition between light and dark and life and death.
According to folklore, it has been said that the spirits of the dead roam from sunset until midnight around Halloween. After midnight on November 1, which is now called All Saints’ Day, the ghosts rested. The Celts also prepared food and lit fires to aid the spirits on their journeys.
As you celebrate the start of the Dark Season with your ghosts and goblins, be sure to look up to the northeast. You will live a breathtaking experience.
In the constellation Perseus you will find the scariest star in the sky! The star is Algol and she is nicknamed “the star of the demon”. In the lore of the stars, this star is said to be the head of the terrifying Medusa, who had hair snakes. One look at her would turn you to stone.
Algol is a variable star, therefore its luminosity increases and decreases. It is the most famous of the variable stars. It brightens and darkens like clockwork with a full cycle of two days, 20 hours, 49 minutes. Long ago, people called Algol the Evil Jellyfish Blinking Eye. Sinister!
You may also spot a Halloween fireball from the Taurid meteor shower, which is visible from late October through December. Meteors are not as common but are larger in size, producing bright meteors and a few fireballs. The other meteor shower for October is the Orionid, which peaks on October 21. Earth will pass through the debris of the famous Halley’s Comet and rain will radiate from the constellation Orion. This year, the light of the near full moon will interfere with the shower.
Night sky for October
The planets and the moon – For the remainder of 2021 we will enjoy a spectacular spectacle of planets. Venus is the first jewel visible after sunset, low to the southwest. Its setting time improves to over two hours after sunset and continues to move across the southwestern star background. Venus is at magnitude -4.2 at the start of the month and clears to -4.5 at the end of the month. Venus reaches the greatest eastern elongation on October 29. However, the altitude of Venus will only reach 11 degrees due to the low angle of the ecliptic to the western horizon. On October 27, Venus reveals a half-illuminated phase. Jupiter shines brightly in the southeast and tapers off slightly to a magnitude of -2.5. Saturn is weaker and to the right of Jupiter. On October 24, Jupiter and Saturn will be at their closest point, 15.4 degrees, until 2039. Mercury returns to the eastern morning sky and brightens rapidly during the last two weeks of October. Mercury will be of magnitude 0 on October 20 and -0.7 on October 25, when it reaches its greatest western aspect ratio. Neptune is visible most of the night in Aquarius and is found within 4 degrees east of the star Phi Aquarii and 6.5 degrees south of the Circle of Pisces. Neptune will be 7 degrees west of the Gibbous Moon on October 17th. Uranus is visible most of the night and is located 16 degrees west of the Pleiades in southern Aries. The nearly full moon will pass 1.3 degrees south of Uranus on October 21. Other lunar couples: the crescent Moon and Venus on October 9, the Moon and Saturn on October 13 and the Moon and Jupiter on October 15. The Moon will be between Jupiter and Saturn on October 14.
Where is – You will see a keystone or a twisted square shape, which is the body of Hercules. Look above the bright blue and white star which is Vega. Climb a little more towards Deneb, then left towards Altair. When you connect these three bright stars, you have created the Summer Triangle. Now go back to Deneb, imagine this is the tail of Cygnus, the swan. To the left and down slightly, there will be three stars aligned. It would be with outstretched wings. The long neck and head of the swan extended from the wings. The head of Cygnus is a double star, Albireo. Above the Summer Triangle is a form of a kite in the stars, Delphinus, the Dauphin.
North – The Big Dipper is low in the northern sky. Follow the two stars at the end of the mug to the next bright star, Polaris or the North Star. The constellation Cassiopeia, the “W” shape, is to the right and top of Polaris.
East – Look for four stars that form a large square, the large square of Pegasus. As we head into October we will see a small star cluster, the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, below and to the left of Pegasus.
Binocular Highlights – Focus on Jupiter shining in the southern sky. Rest your arms on a table or stable surface. You will see four points of light. These are the largest Galilean moons of Jupiter. Enjoy a multitude of stars scanning inside the Summer Triangle. To meet the challenge, meet Vega and Altair, two of the stars of the Summer Triangle. Sweep a third of the climb from Altair to Vega. You will find a cluster of stars that look like an upside down hanger. Locate Cassiopeia. From the top of the W-shape, scan to the right and up slightly to find a blurry object which is the Andromeda Galaxy. From the lower point of the W scan to the right and down slightly and you will see the Double Cluster in Perseus.
For more details on the night sky, maps and audio, visit my website www.starrytrails.com.
Visit the Hoover Price Planetarium
There will be planetarium shows every Saturday. Visit www.mckinleymuseum.org for show dates and times! Planetarium shows are free with admission to the museum. Places are limited and will be on a first come, first served basis. The planetarium is located inside the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum at 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW in Canton. For more information, call the Museum at 330-455-7043.