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10/31/2022 – Ephemeris – The perfect Halloween star

October 31, 2022

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Halloween, Monday, October 31st. Today the Sun will be up for 10 hours and 13 minutes, setting at 6:32, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:20. The Moon, 1 day before first quarter, will set at 12:02 tomorrow morning.

Not all the ghosts and goblins out tonight will be children. One is out just about every night because it’s a star. Its name is Algol, from the Arabic for Ghoul Star or Demon Star. It’s normally the second-brightest star in the constellation Perseus the hero, visible in the northeast this evening. The star is located where artists have drawn the severed head of Medusa, whom he had slain. Medusa was so ugly that she turned all who gazed upon her to stone. Algol is her still glittering eye. The star got the name before astronomers discovered what was really wrong with it. They found out that it does a slow wink about every two days, 21 hours because Algol is two stars that eclipse each other. Her next evening wink will be dimmest at 10:25 p.m. November 19th.*

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT – 4 hours). They may be different for your location.


*For the broadcast, the source for the Algol minimum brightness time was the Stellarium app. For whichever date the sky is displayed for and Algol is clicked on, among the data for the star that is displayed is next minimum light. However, in double-checking the times with those posted in Sky & Telescope magazine after I recorded the program, it turns out to be 3 hours 46 minutes early, so minimum light would be at 1:36 am on November 17th. At the time given then, the eclipse would just be starting. The actual first eclipse minimum in the evening in November would be at 10:25 pm on the 19th. I hope it’s clear on the night of the 16/17th to see which prediction is right. In the past, S&T was accurate, or accurate enough.

Algol Finder

Perseus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda with Algol finder animation for Autumn evenings. Click on the image to enlarge it. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Perseus and the head of Medusa from the 1690 Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius.

Perseus and the head of Medusa from the 1690 Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius. Note that the captions in the image are as seen in a mirror. Early star representations were painted on a globe, a celestial sphere, so the stars and constellations were shown as seen from the outside. A God’s eye view. Early printed star charts simply kept the convention. I reversed the image, so it is seen from inside the celestial sphere. An Earthly view to match the sky as we see it. The image was found with the article on Algol on Wikipedia.

Eclipsing Binary Star

Animation of an eclipsing binary star like Algol. Credit: Wikimedia Commons h/t Earth and Sky

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