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Halloween night sky 2021: See Jupiter, Saturn, Venus and maybe some spooky fireballs

Star trails swirl over three smiling jack-o'-lanterns in this night-sky photo by amateur astronomer Gowrishankar L.
Star trails swirl over three smiling jack-o'-lanterns in this night-sky photo by amateur astronomer Gowrishankar L. (Image credit: <a href="https://www.instagram.com/gowrishankar83">Gowrishankar L.</a>)

Based on the latest national forecast, the night sky will be mainly clear on Sunday evening (Oct. 31) across a large part of the contiguous United States, as costumed kids arrive at the door looking for candy or some other Halloween treat. If they look up, they could see some bright planets and maybe a fireball. 

The only weather exceptions for the Halloween night sky might be across New England and adjacent New York state, where considerable cloudiness and some showers could fall, and over the Central High Plains where chilly and unsettled conditions may prevail. But most everywhere else in the nation should have generally fair or clear skies. Most places will see evening temperatures in the 50s and 60s (degrees Fahrenheit), although across a large swath of the Upper Midwest, Great Plains and Intermountain States it will be quite a bit colder: 40s, 30s, and dare we say even some 20s. So, bundle up!

If you plan to accompany children around your neighborhood, you might want to enlighten them by pointing out some of the objects that will be visible in the sky. Better yet, if you have a telescope, give your visitors a treat of a different kind: A close-up view of some celestial sights such as three bright planets — Jupiter, Saturn and Venus.

Related: These Scary Things in Space Will Haunt Your Dreams

See the northern lights?

If you take a photograph of the Halloween northern lights from the solar flare, send images and comments in to spacephotos@space.com.

Of course, with Covid-19 still lurking, you might want to take extra precautions. Consider youngsters to wear face masks; they can help curb the spread of the coronavirus and to protect other people. And remember social distancing of at least 6 feet (2 meters) from others. It can make a big difference! 

Before we look at the planets you can see in the Halloween night sky, here's something special for 2021. A major solar flare on Oct. 28 is expected to reach Earth over Halloween weekend and could supercharge the northern lights, making them visible across New York, Idaho, Illinois, Oregon, Maryland and Nevada. Here's our guide on the potential Halloween auroras from the solar flare.

If you're hoping to see the northern lights yourself, these guides on where and how to photograph the aurora, as well as the best equipment for aurora photography and how to edit aurora photos, may help. If you need equipment, consider our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.
 

Venus, Saturn and Jupiter on Halloween

This SkySafari app sky map shows the locations of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus in the Halloween night sky on Oct. 31, 2021. It shows the view at 7 p.m. local time looking south and southwest.  (Image credit: SkySafari/Simulation Curriculum)

By far the most obvious object once the sun sets, will be the brilliant planet Venus which will be evident low near the south-southwest horizon a half hour after sunset. In a small telescope, Venus will resemble a half-moon. You can tell your spooky visitors that this planet was named for the goddess of love because it looks so beautiful, although the reason Venus looks so bright is that it is perpetually cloaked by thick clouds of sulfuric acid which readily reflect sunlight out into space. 

If you look for Venus, look quick! By about 7:30 p.m. local time (your local time) it will have dropped out of sight beyond the southwest horizon.

Then, there is Saturn which appears as a bright solitary yellow-white "star" in the southern part of the sky. Many say that Saturn is perhaps the most beautiful of all the planets thanks to its magnificent system of rings. 

Any telescope magnifying at least 30-power will show them and they are still open for all to see, with the north face tilted some 19 degrees to our line of sight.  Some consider Saturn as the "lord of the rings" among the planets.

The third planet is Jupiter, which will be the second brightest object in the sky after Venus. And once Venus sets, Jupiter will stand alone, glowing brilliantly about 15 degrees to the left of Saturn. 

This planet was named for the king of the gods and it is also the king of the planets, being the largest in our solar system. Your clenched fist held at arm’s length measures about 10 degrees, so Jupiter will be about "one and half fists" to the left of Saturn in the southern sky. Jupiter actually glimmers into view during twilight and with even a small telescope using low magnification you’ll be able to see its disk as well as all four of the famous Galilean satellites, so named because Galileo Galilei was the first to see them with his own crude telescope in 1610.  

On this Halloween night, you'll be able to see (in this order, moving out from the disk of Jupiter) three moons — Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, while the fourth moon, Io, stands alone on the other side of Jupiter's disk.  

If you do intend to show Jupiter and Saturn to trick-or-treaters through a telescope, preferably do it before 8:30 p.m. because as we progress later into the evening their images likely will be shivering and churning about, due to poor viewing quality near to the horizon. Saturn sets around 11:45 p.m., while Jupiter will remain in view until about 1 a.m.

Related: The 10 weirdest moons in the solar system

 Halloween fireballs 

One good reason to keep a sharp eye on the sky on Halloween night is for the possibility — albeit small — of catching a view of a spectacular fireball meteor. The Taurid meteor shower, sometimes called the "Halloween fireballs," begin showing up in mid-October and continue into mid-November. The Taurids don't produce a lot of meteors — maybe a dozen during an hour's watch at the very most, and usually much less. But so far as the Taurids are concerned, it's quality that's important, not quantity.

Meteors — popularly referred to as "shooting stars" — are generated when debris enters and burns up in Earth's atmosphere. In the case of the Taurids, they are attributed to debris left behind by Encke's Comet, or perhaps by a much larger comet that, upon disintegrating, left Encke and a lot of other rubble in its wake. Indeed, the Taurid debris stream contains noticeably larger fragments than those shed by other comets, which is why this particular meteor stream occasionally delivers a few outstandingly brilliant meteors known as "fireballs." If one of these flares across the sky on Halloween night, it might even make the kids temporarily forget about candy!

Related: How to photograph meteors and meteor showers

Helpful hints for young telescope viewers

Regarding showing "celestial treats" on Halloween, perhaps nobody said it better than Richard W. Schmude Jr. who offered these tips in the September 2019 issue of The Astronomical League Magazine "Reflector":

"Firstly, children sometimes grab or touch the eyepiece, so use an inexpensive one.  I gently warn children not to touch the telescope.  In my area, parents have learned to tell their children not to touch the telescope. In some cases, a child will grab the eyepiece, causing the telescope to shift. For this reason, a Dobsonian telescope with a good finderscope is a good choice for Halloween outreach. 

If you're looking for a new telescope, check out our picks for the best telescopes for kids, or just best telescope deals and discounts ahead of Black Friday.

A small stool or booster ladder may help very small viewers. Sometimes, parents hold their children up to look through the eyepiece.  One may also place a monitor-connected video camera in the telescope and people can easily see the object on a screen. Finally, I have my bag of goodies next to my telescope so that the children get two treats!"

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Joe Rao
Joe Rao

Joe Rao is Space.com's skywatching columnist, as well as a veteran meteorologist and eclipse chaser who also serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Joe is an 8-time Emmy-nominated meteorologist who served the Putnam Valley region of New York for over 21 years. You can find him on Twitter and YouTube tracking lunar and solar eclipses, meteor showers and more. To find out Joe's latest project, visit him on Twitter.