Hey, everyone. Welcome to November! Are you like me? Do you always sort of feel like the first day of November is like New Year’s Day? It’s like everything has changed, even though nothing has except the house is full of junk food it and the Earth has gone about a another million and a half miles around the Sun. In the next couple of days, the holiday equipment will be packed up and put away for another year.
Well, last night was a gorgeous night here around my neighborhood. Every year, families descend from miles around on my neighborhood to do their trick-or-treating. The houses are close together. The roads are quiet, and lit just enough to be safe, but keep the mystery. By 5:30 or so, the streets were full of excited kids whose mouths were filled with Laffy Taffy (this is not an ad for Laffy Taffy) and whose faces were covered with chocolate. I walked, talking with other parents, passed out candy instead of being stuck at home, and enjoyed being out with friends and family on a gorgeous autumn evening.
I admit I’m a bit of a wet blanket when it comes to Halloween. It always seems like a lot of work, and a huge time and emotional commitment. I remember years ago, in a different life, in a different city, being told that friends, adults, weren’t available for to grab dinner or a drink after work because they’d be busy working on their costumes… in July. Having kids helps, but it’s still a struggle.
All the same, Halloween is always one of the last great nights out before the weather changes. Before a strong wind blows through, and leave the trees, which were festive and colorful the day before, looking like silhouettes of exhausted, varicose veins reaching, hopefully, into far corners of the sky. With that one November gust, it’s suddenly more winter than fall.
Higher up on the hill than where I live, the skies were wide open, and I pointed Mars out to a few Ninja Turtles and mermaids. Mars is a small planet. It’s close to us, the third closest thing, but it’s still only about 4200 miles across, only the second biggest major planet. Except when it’s at it’s brightest, like when it was near opposition during the summer, Mars is subtle in the night sky. It’s red, a good color for Halloween. If you don’t make a habit of watching the skies, it comes in costume as a modestly bright star.
As I held my small talk, a princess asked where Venus is, “I heard it’s bright,” she said. Not only is it bright, but this week Venus is in a great spot to view, fairly high in the west after sunset, kicking back an unmistakable and ostentatious amount of sunlight. So, as we chatted I had to pause for a few seconds before I committed to what it was. I was pretty sure, but wanted to make sure it wasn’t a big airplane masquerading as a planet on its way to one of the airports nearby. Plus, these days, you can use Venus as a tool to help find Saturn, which is just a couple of degrees to its right in the sky.
“But where’s the Moon?” Rey from last year’s Star Wars movie asked me, “and why are you wearing clown shoes and a Santa hat?” The Moon had already set. It was just past new, only about 1% lit; mostly still nighttime on the near side. Those early phases are too dark and too close to the Sun to see easily.
“Tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday though?” I told her, “keep an eye out,” as she walked off with her mother to get more candy, thankfully, before I could explain my costume. As the rest of this week moves by, we here on Earth will see dawn spread across the near face of the Moon and the gorgeous young crescent phases will grow each night. This time around, the Moon will pass right through the constellation Scorpius, the scorpion. You might remember from last week that this is where Venus is now, and where Saturn has been for the last several months.
So, tonight, if you have some time, have a look low in the western sky shortly after sunset. You’ll see Venus grabbing your attention, almost comically bright, against the deepening oranges and pinks of November’s first sunset. If you hold two fingers out at arms length to the right of Venus, you might be able to see Saturn waving at you from a billion miles away, then, another fist-at-arm’s-length further to the right, will be a very thin, an eyelash, of a crescent Moon. Binoculars will help with this, but it’ll be just barely visible with your naked eye if you’re patient.My sky-watching dime is on tomorrow night, Wednesday the 2nd, as the Moon crosses just above Saturn and makes a tidy right triangle along with Venus. You’ll also be able to see some Earthshine on the still-dark part of the Moon. It’ll be gorgeous, especially because of the colors in the sky itself, and the leaves on the trees all around. The bright star Antares will also be in the mix, but it’s a summer star, and its contract is up, so it’s setting too early to be seen easily. By the weekend, just in time for the 51st anniversary of Marty McFly nearly spoiling his parents marriage, the Moon will cross paths with Mars again, in the constellation Sagittarius, the archer.
“Daddy!” my younger daughter ran over to me and hugged me so hard she almost knocked me over, and jammed and empty plastic Laffy Taffy wrapper in my hand. “I got candy!” There was even some left the purple plastic pumpkin she was carrying all her riches in. “This is for you!” part yell, part jitter, and sped off to the next house. It was one of those moments when I realized I knew more about her than she knew about herself; I could see into her future. By this time next year, she might not care as much about Halloween, or she might want to be off with her friends like her older sister was, but for now, she couldn’t be happier. I was glad to be able to carry her garbage for another night. Slowly, we walked on, and house by spooky house, I watched Venus vanish into the night. Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the skies this if you can, and clear skies, everyone!