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ISU Planetarium entertains with 'Ghostly Tales Under the Stars' this Halloween

ISU Planetarium.jpeg
Tom Willmitch
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The Illinois State University Planetarium celebrates Halloween with "Ghostly Tales Under the Stars" Friday and Saturday.

Halloween is here and the nights are lengthening. That makes it easier to look at the stars in the sky.

Tom Willmitch directs the Illinois State University Planetarium. He said there are still wonderful features of summer lingering in the night sky. For instance, the bright stars of the Summer Triangle are visible overhead.

"You can still catch a hint of the teapot and Sagittarius where the Milky Way arches down to the southwestern horizon, and it's in the direction of Sagittarius, we find the center of our galaxy. And of course, you've got on full display the stars that are always present in the northern sky, the Big Dipper, although it's skimming the horizon right now. And then the two end stars in the cup of the dipper point to the North Star. If you out the open end of the cup, it leads right to Polaris, which sits at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper," said Willmitch.

In the early evening, you can see the the stars of the Pleiades, the seven sisters.

"To the Japanese. It's known as Subaru, the car company named after the stars of the Pleiades. Their logo includes six little stars. Although it's called the Seven Sisters, to the eye it's either six stars, eight stars, or nine stars. Nobody ever counts seven," said Willmitch.

And the winter constellation of Orion, the Hunter, is beginning to rise this time of year. Orion is probably the best known true constellation in the sky. The Big Dipper is actually an asterism, the name astronomers give for a bright group of stars.

"Orion is part of a true constellation that will be the highlight to the south as we get into the winter just after dark, distinctive with its three stars in a row that form the hunters belt," said Willmitch.

Halloween is more about the length of days than it is about the sky. It's the mid-point between the start of fall with autumnal equinox and the beginning of winter with the winter solstice. It's an inflection point as the last of summer vanishes, and autumn starts to give way to winter.

"And of course, this was to many ancient cultures a rather frightening time a year because you know who's to say that the night won't lengthen until eternal night? So, in places like Ireland long ago, they used to build bonfires trying to encourage the the sun to return again," said Willmitch.

The ISU Planetarium is putting on a show for the Halloween season Friday and Saturday. It's called "Ghostly Tales Under the Stars." The planetarium works with The Improv Mafia, an award-winning group at ISU that tells the spooky stories.

"Some of the stories you'll have seen elsewhere, perhaps you might have read at some point or another, or heard the myth. They'll act those out," Willmitch said. "And then in the second half of the show, the performers will ask the audience, what's a spooky story that you've always wanted to see or hear, but but you've never actually encountered in print or in film. Then they'll act one of those stories out

Willmitch said the 7:30 p.m. showings Friday and Saturday and the 2:30 p.m. showing Saturday are family friendly and do not require tickets. Seating is first come, first served. He said a midnight showing Friday is a little more intense and better suited for college students and adults.

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