It seems we are entering meteor season! The Orionids are winding down, but we have another shower peaking next weekend – the Southern Taurids are another wide, diffuse shower that lasts for weeks, peaking at 10-20 meteors per hour on November 4. Unfortunately, this peak coincides with a full Moon which will wash out the sky and make many of the meteors invisible.
Not to worry though, as the Leonids will peak on Nov. 17, and then the Geminids on Dec. 14… both with relatively dark skies and small moons. So keep watching the same swath of sky, again at 1-2 am for the best/highest viewing, and there’s a good chance of seeing some meteors right up through the end of the year.
There are other things happening this week of astronomical and mythical import…. namely Halloween. Astronomically speaking, this week is roughly halfway between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice – it’s the beginning of what some have called “The Darkening”, the darkest period of the year whose mid-point is marked by the solstice. (For us outdoor types, it’s the beginning of one of 8 “seasons”… this half of winter is not as COLD as January, but every bit as dark). At my latitude, next Thursday, Nov 2 marks the somewhat arbitrary day I’ve picked to mark the occasion – it’s the day when I experience less than ten and a half hours of daylight each day, and from then it only gets darker. The specific duration of daylight is highly latitude-dependent, but the effect is the same throughout the northern hemisphere. South of the equator, you’re entering the “Brightening” – enjoy!
In ancient Celtic cultures, this event was celebrated as Samhain, a day of bonfires and revelry, but also of spirituality. As the world turns into darkness, the line between our physical world and that of the spirit world becomes tenuous… this week is the time when it’s easiest for spirits to walk among us. These spirits did include dead relatives, but many were very nature-oriented. As cultures clashed, through human interaction, those spirits became associated with evil – witches, devils. All Hallows Eve was the Christian appropriation of Samhain and other similar pagan festivals, with a very clear connotation of the spirits as evil things, and a need to ward them off and protect ourselves.
These days, Halloween is mostly just fun… but consider the impact of myth and culture. Less than a month ago, we were celebrating the Harvest Moon as a bright evening light that extended the hours to reap the bounty of our fields. But THIS week, the full Moon (it happens next Friday) is a harbinger of doom, associated with the evil of werewolves and ill omen. It’s a beautiful sight, until clouds blow across it – and then it’s a Witch Moon. The rising red Blood Moon is an indicator of war and death… All because it coincides with the Darkening and the opening of that door to the spirit world.
This Halloween won’t be quite so evil – we’ll only have a waxing gibbous Moon. Still bright, but not full on Full Moon scary.
Of course, next weekend (at least where I live), Daylight Savings Time also ends – a decidedly modern insult to injury that will reinforce our descent into winter darkness. Good thing those long winter nights are also typically crisp and clear – great for watching the stars, and glimpsing the occasional other-worldly spirit!
Get Out There