Starry Heavens Newsletter
Please click the link above to take a walk back in time to learn the origins of our modern-day Halloween festivities. This is a courtesy Halloween treat to the community thanks to the generosity of Dr. Jacqueline Maly
who donated the fulldome show through our Adopt-A-Show initiative.
What does Halloween have to do with the Pleiades or Astronomy?? It’s for kids – Right??
Wrong!!! It’s totally an Astronomical holiday
Halloween – short for All Hallows’ Eve
– is an astronomical holiday. To be sure, it’s the modern-day descendant from Samhain
, (pronounced Sow-an) a sacred festival of the ancient Celts and Druids in the British Isles. But it’s also a cross-quarter day,
which is probably why Samhain occurred when it did.
The Sun marks the year at four clear points called the Quarter Days – in the Northern Hemisphere – the Winter Solstice (longest night), Spring Equinox (equal night and day), Summer Solstice (longest day), and Autumnal Equinox (once again, equal day and night).
Early people were keen observers of the sky. A cross-quarter day is a day more or less midway between an equinox (when the sun sets due west) and a solstice (when the sun sets at its most northern or southern point on the horizon). Halloween – October 31 – is approximately the midway point between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, for us in the Northern Hemisphere. In other words, in traditional astronomy, there are eight major seasonal subdivisions of every year. They include the March and September equinoxes, the June and December solstices, and the intervening four cross-quarter days. In modern times, the four cross-quarter days are often called Groundhog Day (February 2), May Day (May 1), Lammas (August 1) and Halloween (October 31).
The Celts divided the year into eight by inserting the four Cross Quarter Days at roughly November 1st (Samhain), February 1st (Imbolc
), May 1st (Beltane
) and August 1st (Lughnasad
). These points are roughly half the number of days between the Solstices and the Equinoxes.
The end is the beginning. . . . .
Samhain (Halloween/All Saints Day) is the end and beginning of the Celtic year. By November 1st, the harvest is in and the seeds of the winter crops are planted. Samhain marks the end of the old and the beginning of the new Celtic year. With the end/beginning cusp, Samhain is the time in the Celtic yearly cycle when the veil to the other side is the thinnest. It is the time when spirits, good or bad are free to roam and is thus a time to remember the dead.
For us in the Northern Hemisphere, Halloween is the darkest of the cross-quarter days, coming at a time of year when the days are growing shorter. Early people believed that each day began at sunset, and on this cross-quarter day the spirits of the dead wander from sunset until midnight. After midnight – on November 1, now called All Saints’ Day – the spirits are said to go back to rest.
The October 31 date for Halloween has been fixed by tradition but is it the true cross-quarter day?
The Pleiades connection
Pleiades photo Dave Dehetre/Flickr
The true cross-quarter day falls on November 7, representing a discrepancy of about a week.
It’s thought that the early forebear of Halloween – Samhain – happened on the night that the Pleiades
star cluster culminated
at midnight. In other words, the Pleiades climbed to its highest point in the sky at midnight on or near the same date as this cross-quarter day.
In our day, Halloween is fixed on October 31, though the midnight culmination of the Pleiades cluster now occurs on November 21. Presuming the supposed connection between Samhain and the midnight culmination of the Pleiades, the two events took place on or near the same date in the 11th century (1001-1100) and 12th century (1101-1200). This was several centuries before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. At that time, when the Julian calendar
was in use, the cross-quarter day and the midnight culmination of the Pleiades fell – amazingly enough – on or near October 31. But, then, the Julian calendar was about one week out of step with the seasons. Had the Gregorian calendar been in use back then, the date of the cross-quarter day celebration would have been November 7.Calendar converter via Fourmilab
Nevertheless, Halloween is now fixed on October 31. Meanwhile, the true cross-quarter day now falls on or near November 7 and the midnight culmination of the Pleiades cluster on or near November 21. Bottom line: October 31, the present date for Halloween, marks the approximate midway point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice as one of the year’s 4 cross-quarter days.
Astro-themed pumpkins photo by Victor C. Rogus of Sedona
The Irish myth of “Stingy Jack” that gave birth to the practice of carving Jack o lanterns
The practice of decorating jack-o'-lanterns originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes were carved with ghoulish faces and illuminated with candles to ward off evil spirits. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America, home of the pumpkin, and it became an integral part of Halloween festivities.
In fact, the name, jack-o'-lantern, comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack. According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil
to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.
Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”
It happened again . . . . .
Four people returned to Earth from a three-day extraterrestrial
excursion aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on Saturday September 18, marking the end of the first-ever flight to Earth's orbit flown entirely by tourists or otherwise non-astronauts.
Four more "regular folk"
went into space. Unlike the Bezo’s Blue Origin
flight and Branson’s Virgin Galactic
flight, which lasted several hours, SpaceX’s all civilian Inspiration
crew flew higher than the International Space Station for three days. Of course, they trained for this historic event, six months of training to be precise. Nevertheless, they are not astronauts. They are civilians.
Oddly enough this accomplishment has gone relatively unnoticed – i.e no congratulations from the White House, and FAA does not think any of the flights this summer are worthy of the FAA commercial astronaut wings. Really?? (Does anyone remember their first flight on an airline when you were five or so and the flight crew gave you your wings.) Wings or no wings these folks will be in the history books as the first all-civilian crew to fly in space.
Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire, and experienced pilot commanded the mission. He founded a payment process company called Shift4 Payments and purchased all four seats on the flight for an estimated $220 million. Isaacman wants this launch to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. He has already donated $100 million to the cause.
One seat was reserved for 29-year-old St. Jude ambassador Hayley Arceneaux. Arceneaux is a bone cancer survivor and will be the youngest American to go to space as well as the first pediatric cancer survivor.
The third occupant, Dr. Sian Proctor, 51, will become the fourth Black female American astronaut to travel into space. Dr. Proctor was one of the original participants in the Hi-SEAS project on Hawaii island where she spent four months in 2013 inside a Mars-like habitat on Mauna Loa.
The final crew member is Chris Sembroski, 41, an Iraq War veteran and engineer with Lockheed Martin, who won the final seat through a lottery that required a St. Jude donation to enter.
Congratulations Inspiration Crew!
Reasons to look up in October
A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch the Soyuz MS-19
crew capsule to the International Space Station
with Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and two space tourists: Russian film director Klim Shipenko and a (not-yet-named) Russian actress, who plan to film a movie while spending one week in space. (The two filmmakers are scheduled to return to Earth on the Soyuz MS-18 crew capsule.)
The new moon
arrives at 1:05 a.m. HST (1105 GMT)
The Draconid meteor shower
, which is active Oct. 6-10, will peak overnight Oct. 8.
Oct. 9: Conjunction of the moon and Venus
. The waxing crescent moon will pass about 3 degrees to the north of Venus. Look for the pair above the western horizon after sunset.
Oct. 14: Conjunction of the moon and Saturn
. The waxing gibbous moon will swing about 4 degrees to the south of Saturn in the evening sky.
Oct. 15: Conjunction of the moon and Jupiter
. The waxing gibbous moon will swing about 4 degrees to the south of Jupiter in the evening sky.
NASA will launch its Lucy mission
to study the Trojan asteroids. It will lift off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The full moon of October, known as the Full Hunter's Moon
, occurs at 4:57 a.m. HST (1457 GMT).
The waning gibbous moon and Uranus will make a close approach
, passing within 1.3 degrees of each other. Shining at magnitude 5.7, Uranus may be bright enough to spot with the naked eye under dark skies.
The annual Orionid meteor shower
, which is active all month long, peaks overnight.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
will launch a Dragon spacecraft on the Crew-3
mission, the third operational astronaut flight to the International Space Station. On board will be NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer. (The fourth crewmember has not yet been announced). It will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Oct. 24: Mercury at greatest elongation west
. The innermost planet will reach its greatest western separation from the sun, shining brightly at magnitude -0.6. Catch the elusive planet above the eastern horizon shortly before sunrise. The following day (Oct. 25) Mercury will reach its highest point
in the morning sky.
A Russian Soyuz rocket
will launch the Progress 79
cargo resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope
is scheduled to lift off from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on an Ariane 5 ECA rocket.
Also scheduled to launch in October (from Spaceflight Now):
- A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will launch the USSF 52 mission for the U.S. Space Force. It will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
- The Soyuz MS-18 crew capsule will return to Earth from the International Space Station with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, as well as two space tourists: Russian film director Klim Shipenko and a (not-yet-named) Russian actress, who will have arrived on the Soyuz MS-19 mission in September and plan to film a movie in space.
Our Online Resources Update
Hokulani Star Stories
A new star story - The Legend of Chief Makali'i with the tiny eyes will be uploaded to the website during the month of October.
For information about Imaginarium shows and events contact:
Manager, Dineene O‘Connor, at 808-235-7350 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Our admission prices are:
- $8 General admission
- $7 WCC students, military, seniors (65 years or older), with ID
- $6 Children (ages 4-12 years)
- Free for children under 4 years of age (1 per paying adult), and WCC faculty or staff with university ID
- CASH & CHECK ONLY.
Please pick up and pay for tickets at the Imaginarium Box Office at least 15 minutes prior to showtime.
* * * * *
As always, we welcome your feedback or questions, feel free to phone (808) 235-7350 or email to email@example.com. If you would like information regarding our Adopt-a-Show sponsorship program
please click here
Manager, Hōkūlani Imaginarium
Windward Community College
Hale Imiloa 135A
Office (808) 235-7350