Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eldritch eyes in the sky watch over Halloween revelers

Eldritch eyes in the sky watch over Halloween revelers
by Dave Adalian

Tomorrow night, when ghosts and goblins, witches and all sort of evil thing take to the streets for Hallowe’en, an eerie trio of eldritch eyes from the early evening southwestern sky will watch them as they go.

Just after the sun sets at six o’clock, a new moon a scant few hours old will become visible a handful of degrees atop the horizon. With only the barest slice of its leading limb lit by dying sunlight the moon might look not entirely unlike the giant bloodshot eye of some cosmic creature leering down as costumed children dart among the neighborhood houses, collecting their treats and playing their tricks.

This ominous orb may be so thin it hides among wisps of lingering autumn mist, so seek for it instead by finding Venus, shining just above the moon like a baleful, unblinking witness, then wait until the sky grows darker and the moon more distinct.

Sometime also in that first hour after dark the tiny red light of Antares will appear, a bloody jewel beneath the moon. So, too, will the brighter stars of a setting Sagittarius come out, cold and shimmering beside the moon, and there above them will be Jupiter glaring out into the night.

Those three sky-bound watchers will not contain their vigil to a single eve, and the moon will float between the other two like an unquiet spirit, moving past Venus then up beyond Jupiter as the first few long November nights unfold.

These three probing autumn eyes and their glittering companions are not the only specters lingering in the heavens on Hallowe’en night. High overhead, three bright stars form a mystic triangle: white Vega in Lyra the farthest west of the group, Altair in Aquila at the south-most vertices and Deneb in Cygnus cutting the eastern angle.

In the north the Big Dipper lies low against the horizon with its bowl open, perhaps to gather candy or to be filled with water from Aquarius on the other side of the sky for cosmic apple bobbing. As always, the Dipper’s two end stars point the way to Polaris, and there beside the North Star is the W shape of Queen Cassiopeia, a ghoulish woman who would have fed her own daughter to the sea serpent Cetus.

Then in the east above the mountains the wraithlike Seven Sisters of the Pleiades begin their nightlong journey toward the west, and midnight finds them at the zenith when Halloween turns to All Saints’ Day.


This column originally appeared in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta and the Tulare (Calif.) Advance-Register.