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The Astronomy Part of Halloween - Plus Meteor Showers in Nov. | Oregon Coast Beach Connection

Published 10/26/23 at 5:03 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Oceanside, Oregon) – All along the Oregon coast and Washington coast, in a mere few days, everyone will be donning their costumes, heading out to get some candy – or in the case of grownups, get their drink on. It's a good reason for a party for young and old, and 'tis the season to get a little scared as well. (Photo Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more)

Halloween in 2023 is celebrated on Tuesday, October 31, and while it is primarily built around the myriad of spooks and ghouls from popular culture, it's all from a tradition that goes back centuries here on Earth. It's also a good reason to look up while you're out for the evening: it represents a place and time in our solar system.

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There's astronomy as well as deep history lurking in the favorite holiday.

See Ghosts of the Oregon Coast.

Also in the realm of astronomy: more goodies are coming to the skies of the Washington and Oregon coastlines.

According to Jim Todd, astronomy expert at Portland's OMSI, Halloween is short for All Hallows’ Eve and it's an astronomical event.

“It is the modern-day descendant of Samhain, a sacred festival of the ancient Celts and Druids in the British Isles,” he said. “But it’s also a cross-quarter day, so Samhain occurred when it did. A cross-quarter day is a day midway between an equinox and a solstice.”

To the ancients, Todd said, this held sizable significance.

“The true cross-quarter day falls on November 7, representing a discrepancy of about one week,” he said. “According to the ancient Celts, a cross-quarter day marks a season's beginning, not the middle.”

Todd said the year is divided up into eight major subdivisions. There are the equinoxes in March and September, the June and December solstices (remember all those cool Jethro Tull tunes about these holidays back in the day?), and then there were the cross-quarter days.

“The four cross-quarter days are often called Groundhog Day (February 2), May Day (May 1), Lammas (August 1), and Halloween (October 31),” he said.

All this notes our path through the solar system over the course of the year. Therein lies the true science in the midst of these old myths and traditions.

There are eight major seasonal subdivisions every year. They include the March and September equinoxes, the June and December solstices, and the intervening four cross-quarter days.

Halloween is the spookiest of those cross-quarter days, probably becoming so because this is when the days grow shorter. On Halloween, the ancient traditions say the souls of the dead wander the Earth from dusk to midnight. As November 1 rolls around at 12:01, it's called All Saint's Day and they're back to rest.

In reality, it's the bar patrons of Halloween parties that go to sleep, trying to stave off that morning holiday hangover.

Also see Interstellar Objects Above Oregon Coast / Washington Coast Only Cameras Can See: Emissions Nebulae

If you're on the beaches of the Oregon coast or Washington coast on Halloween night, look around you, however. Did something move in the corner of your eye out there?


Oceanside at night - Oregon Coast Beach Connection

You should look up and know our planet just passed another landmark in the year - and in the solar system.

When it comes to November, there's not a lot going in the skies above the beaches of Oregon and Washington. Yet you will finds some small amount of meteor action – and the nights get longer by an hour because of the change to Standard Time on November 4 when you set your clock an hour back.

The Leonids meteor shower peaks on November 16 – 18. It's a light one, so you'll need exceptionally dark skies for it, which the Washington coast and Oregon coast are perfect for. These usually show ten meteors per hour. They aren't the only meteor showers going on through November: there are some minor ones here and there. So keep looking. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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