Boo! The scariest night of the year is almost here.
As we celebrate Halloween with costumes, trick-or-treating, and plenty of scares, let’s take a look at the history behind this spooky day.
What’s so special about Halloween?
Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, is not just about candy and costumes.
Halloween is actually a festival that descends from the ancient Celtic and Druid festival of Samhain.
This festival marked the transition from summer to winter activities. This is because it occurred between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, or a time of year known as cross-quarter day.
In our “Eyes in the Sky” posts, we have talked about both equinoxes and solstices. An equinox is a time of year when the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. This creates equal amounts of light during the day and at night.
A solstice, on the other hand, is a time of year when the sun is at its highest apparent point or its lowest apparent point. These are the longest and shortest days of the year.
However, there are four other key dates of the year that are much less known in modern times. These are known as cross-quarter days. A cross-quarter day is a day that occurs between a solstice and an equinox. Groundhog Day and Halloween are cross-quarter days.
During Samhain, the ancients believed that the barrier between this world and the next world was more open.
This meant that the spirits of the dead could come and go between the two worlds more easily.
Also on this date in the distant past, the Pleiades star cluster could be observed at its maximum height at midnight.
The concurrence of the Pleiades at midnight on Halloween has spooky significance for several cultures. Many cultures associated this cross-quarter day with a time to respect those who had died and commemorate their passing with ceremonies.
Two examples of this are the Mexican Day of the Dead and the Christian All Souls’ Day.
A night in which the line between the living and the dead is blurred? Sounds creepy to us!
We leave you with a beautiful image of a galactic system that is so massive that it has warped the space around it. This means it offers a distorted view of much more distant galaxies.
It also looks a lot like a Halloween pumpkin.
Do you want to know more about October skies? Click here.