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Halloween 2005: Star Arcturus, Ghost of Summer Sun

Arcturus in late OctoberA number of bright celestial objects decorate the sky on Halloween night. The planet Venus -- the brightest star-like object in the sky -- beams in the southwest at dusk, setting a few hours after sunset. The ruddy planet Mars -- the second brightest heavenly body to glorify the Halloween night sky -- rises above your eastern horizon at early evening and shines all night long.

However, it's the brilliant yellow-orange star Arcturus -- not these planets -- that stands out as the true fixture of the Halloween season. Next year at Halloween, you won't see Venus or Mars at all. But every year at Halloween, Arcturus faithfully appears in your northwest sky as darkness falls.

Always, on Halloween night, Arcturus celebrates its favorite holiday by masquerading as the summer Sun. This star sets at the same time and the same place on the horizon as the setting Sun in summer. In fact, by watching Arcturus through the autumn chill, trick-or-treaters can imagine the absent summer Sun radiating extra hours of warm sunshine. Not till after dark does Arcturus set, an echo of long summer afternoons. Similarly, Arcturus rises before dawn's first light on All Saints' Day, a phantom reminder of early morning daybreaks.

At extremely far northern latitudes -- like Barrow, Alaska -- Arcturus doesn't rise or set at all. There, Arcturus simulates the arctic midnight Sun of summer.

At dusk on this Halloween night, Arcturus appears quite far north (or right) of Venus, the brightest celestial object in the evening sky. Every Halloween, Arcturus -- this yellow-orange jack-o'-lantern of a star -- stars as the ghost of the summer Sun, sparkling in your northwest sky at evening dusk and your northeast sky at morning dawn.

copyright 2005 by Bruce McClure

October 2005 Feature * November 2005 Feature

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