Astronomical Halloween

Pumpkin bin supermarket sentinels, cob web fluff, fold out spiders, broom stick witches. Pumpkin patch, amusement park Fright Night, haunted house tours, behemoth inflatable yard ghosts, pop-up fireworks outlets – it must be Halloween.

This year, take a moment to ponder astronomical Halloween, one of four “cross- quarter days” in a year – a cross-quarter day falls midway between a equinox (sun sets due west) and the solstice (sun sets at most northern or southern point on the horizon). March and September equinoxes, June and December solstices plus one cross-quarter between each, makes eight astronomical sub-divisions in a year.

Astronomical Halloween, rooted in the ancient Celtic festival Samhain took cues from the Pleiades star cluster. Cosmically vigilant pagans celebrated Samhain on the night Pleiades reached its highest point in the sky, coincidentally falling at cross-quarter time. Trouble is – the 7th century Catholic church knew nothing of Pleiades or cross-quarter days. They declared November 1 All Saints Day (honoring any saints who didn’t have their own day), October 31 All Hallows Eve (mass for all who are hallowed) – set in stone dates based on a wonky Julian calendar.

Had the Gregorian calendar been applied, Halloween would fall on November 7.

A color-composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitized Sky Survey. Image credit: NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech

A color-composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitized Sky Survey. Image via NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech.

Day Of The Dead Waits For Notes

Nothing beats news of a surprise adventure. Yesterday started as any other work day, who knew it would end with dollops of razzmatazz. Best of all, I didn’t bat an eye when barely home from work, my husband said “lets go to¬† Day of the Dead in Mexico City”.

I drove to work this morning accompanied by opening scenes from the latest James Bond movie, beaming as Dia de Muertos looped in my head. After work, first order of business demanded watching this clip –

Getting ready for bed it came to me – other than brushing up on my Spanish, I plan to spend the next 27 days at peace with adventure. Surprise trips to Mexico City for Day of the Dead can’t be supported by fictional movie sequences or travel copy book ends. Common sense and practicalities aside, adventure asks that I arrive a blank slate.