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The Sky This Week, 2019 October 29 - November 5

A spooky week to reset your clocks!
Crescent Moon and Earthshine, imaged 2018 January 20 from Alexandria, Virginia.
Crescent Moon and Earthshine, 2018 January 20
imaged with an Antares Sentinel 80mm (3.1-inch) f/6 refractor and a
Canon EOS Rebel SL2 DSLR from Alexandria, Virginia.
HDR composite of four exposures.

The waxing crescent Moon returns to the evening sky this week, passing through the late summer constellations before heading northward through the sparse starfields of autumn.  First Quarter occurs on November 4th at 5:23 am Eastern Standard Time.  Look for the Moon near Jupiter on Halloween.  On the following evening she lies just west of Saturn.  

This weekend brings the time of year when most of the country resets their clocks back one hour to begin observing Standard Time.  This annual ritual has been incorporated into U.S. Code, with Arizona and Hawai’i being the only two states where annual clock changes don’t occur.  Florida passed legislation to keep the state on year-round Daylight Time, but the measure can’t take effect until Congress changes the Federal statute.  Why do we change the clocks at all?  The idea of Daylight Time was first brought to widespread attention by a New Zealand entomologist, George Hudson, and an English builder and outdoorsman, William Willett.  Hudson, a shift-worker, wanted more time after work to collect specimens, and Willett, an avid golfer, wanted more time after work to get in a round of 18 holes.  Hudson published several papers on his perceived advantages of Daylight Time, but Willett managed to get the ear of a Member of Parliament who introduced a bill to enact the idea in 1908.  After many failed attempts, though, the proposal was tabled in 1915.  Daylight Time was first adopted in Germany in 1916 as a means of keeping munitions factories open later during the First World War.  Great Britain soon followed suit, but in the U.S. a different “marketing strategy” was used to promote the idea.  Thanks to food rationing, many people planted “victory gardens” to supplement their diets, and the idea of Daylight Time was promoted as a means of letting workers tend their plots after finishing their shifts at a factory.  Daylight Time was thus adopted in the spring of 1918.  However, most of the populace didn’t have victory gardens, and changing the clocks twice a year led to much confusion.  The Daylight Time law was summarily repealed in 1919.  From then until 1966 it was left up to state and local governments to enact daylight Time, except during World War II, when President Roosevelt put the country on permanent “War Time”, one hour advanced from Standard Time.  Finally, in 1966, Congress enacted the Uniform Standard Time Act, which, with a few modifications over the years, is now the law of the land. 

October 31st marks the date of an astronomical “cross-quarter” day, which under traditional agricultural calendar systems marks the mid-point of an astronomical season.  These days figured prominently in many cultures, especially those in northern Europe, where the seasonal markers and cross-quarters were widely celebrated with feasts and general merrymaking.  Today everyone recognizes the 31st as Halloween, but few understand its significance in ancient cultures.  To the Celts it represented the beginning of the long nights of winter, and with those came dark connotations of death and suffering.  Their observance of Samhain was eventually Christianized into All Saints Day, preceded by All Hallows Eve, a time to remember the souls of those who died during the previous year.   If you see ghosts and goblins prowling your neighborhood that evening, you better give them treats!

Venus is now beginning to start he climb into the evening sky.  As October ends she sets about an hour after the Sun, and you should be able to spot her brilliant glow above the southwest horizon shortly after sunset.  By the end of November she will be very prominent, setting almost two hours after Old Sol.

Jupiter now sets less than an hour after the end of evening twilight, but he’s bright enough to shine prominently in the gradually darkening sky.  You should be able to locate the giant planet about 20 minutes after sunset in the southwestern sky about 15 degrees above the horizon.

Saturn trails Jupiter by about an hour and a half, so he should still be well-placed for viewing at the end of evening twilight.  You won’t have much time to get a good telescopic view of the ringed planet, though, since by the end of the week he will set at around 9:00 pm.