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The Sky This Week, 2018 October 30 - November 6

Time for the time change
Pearly Moon
"Pearly Moon", imaged 2018 October 26 from Alexandria, Virginia
HDR composite of three exposures made with a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR.

The Moon wanes in the morning sky this week.  New Moon occurs on November 7th at 11:02 am Eastern Standard Time.  Early risers can spot Luna near the bright star Regulus in the constellation of Leo, the Lion before dawn on the 2nd.

The first Sunday in November is now the official time to change your clocks back to Standard Time.  Technically the change should occur at 2:00 am on Sunday morning, but most of us will make the change before retiring on Saturday evening.  The rules governing these annual clock changes are dictated by U.S. Code (specifically Title 15, Chapter 6, Subchapter IX - Standard Time, for those of you who sticklers for detail!) and enforced by the Office of General Counsel at the Department of Transportation.  First instituted by law in the U.S. in 1918, the concept was never popular and the national implementation was rescinded by Congress in 1919.  The observance of Daylight Time was left up to the states to define and enforce until 1966, when Congress once again created a national law.  The Standard Time Act has been modified a number of times since then, with the most recent variation imposed in 2005.  Today only Arizona and Hawai’i are exempt from the law, but there is a growing tide of sentiment in Florida to stay on Daylight Time year-round. 

October 31 marks the increasingly popular celebration of Halloween, which is beginning to gain world-wide popularity after being a staple semi-holiday in the United States.  It owes its origins to the observance of an astronomical “cross-quarter” day that marks the mid-point of the astronomical season of Autumn.  Once widely celebrated in pagan times, cross-quarter days still find their way into popular culture.  The Celtic festival of Samhain marked the end of the harvest, preparations for the coming winter, and the recognition of the souls of the souls of the departed.  When Christianity reached Celtic lands the feast of All Saint’s Day was moved to coincide with Samhain, and the night before became All Hallows Eve.  Among the other celebrations observed with Halloween, the Mexican holiday of Dia de Muertos is also gaining in popular culture.

The November observing campaign for the Globe at Night citizen science program is now underway and will last until the Moon returns to the evening sky on the 8th.  This month’s featured constellation is Perseus, which can be found rising in the northeast by 9:00 pm.  Perseus reminds me of the part of a wishbone that the winner gets when one is broken for a wish.  It lies between the “W”-shaped pattern of Cassiopeia and the bright beacon of the star Capella, the first of winter’s bright stars to appear in the evening.  The brightest star in Perseus is Mirfak, and the star lies in the middle of a very nice binocular star cluster.  If you’re out on a clear night, take a look at Perseus and report the number of stars you see to the Globe at Night’s website.

Jupiter can still be glimpsed in bright twilight about half an hour after sunset.  At this time he’s only five degrees above the southwest horizon, so you’ll need a good vantage point to spot him.  If you have binoculars look for the glimmer of Mercury just below and to the left of Old Jove.

Saturn is still visible in the southwest as twilight fades, and the ringed planet lingers for about 90 minutes after the end of twilight before setting.  If you’ve got a good view of the southwest, set up your telescope and give the neighborhood trick-or-treaters a treat that they won’t soon forget.

Mars passes close to a couple of relatively bright stars this week as he finishes his crossing of the constellation of Capricornus.  On the 1st he passes just one-quarter degree north of the third-magnitude star Nashira; on the 4th he passes slightly farther from the second-magnitude star Deneb Algedi.  His eastward motion is keeping him on pace with the advancing Sun.  This will enable him to remain in the evening sky for the remainder of the year.

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