Don’t miss next week’s spectacular Taurid meteor shower
Over the next week, keep a close eye on the night sky for an exceptionally bright meteor, as there’s a chance Earth will encounter a swarm of unusually large particles capable of creating some truly eye-popping brilliance. fireballs, the kind that cause unsuspecting citizens to call the police.
Every year around this time, the Earth undergoes a broad stream of debris left by the periodic period comet Encke. The dusty material associated with this comet hits Earth’s atmosphere at approximately 30 km per second and burns up creating the Taurid meteor shower.
The 2022 version of Taurid could prove particularly bright and put on an engaging show. But also this year, unfortunately, this year meteors it will face some significant competition in the form of a full or near-full moon, which will light up the sky most nights and will likely drown out most of the weaker streaks.
The Taurids are actually some of the longest of the year with some recognizable activity (at least a few shower members per hour) with their first predecessors appearing around October 20th and their last stragglers disappearing around November 30th. But it is during the one-week time frame that runs from November 5th to November 12th that the Taurids are most active.
During this time frame, about five to 15 meteors can be seen per hour by a single observer with a clear, dark sky (city lights or even a light haze will significantly reduce the number of faint meteors visible). These meteors are often yellowish-orange and, as meteors go, appear to be moving rather slowly.
We’ll come back and talk about this handicap a little later. But first, let’s talk about the characteristics of Taurid meteors.
Larger meteoroids are expected this year
Meteors – popularly known as “shooting stars” – are formed when debris the size of spikes and grains of sand enter and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. In the case of the Taurids, they are attributed to debris left by Comet Encke or perhaps a much larger comet that disintegrated and left Encke and much other debris behind.
Indeed, some astronomers believe that Comet Encke is a fragment of a huge comet that broke up 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. These comet breakups are often caused by gravitational encounters with Earth or other planets. This supposed disintegration may explain why there are so many Encke-like pieces moving about inside Solar system. In 1982, two British astronomers, SV M (Victor) Clube and William Napier, even hypothesized that it was a huge fragment of Encke’s cometary parent which caused a 5 megaton explosion over Tunguska in Siberia in June 1908.
Known as the Taurid shower, these bright meteors form when Earth it encounters a group of pea- and pebble-sized fragments from the comet that then burn up in the atmosphere
Encke has the shortest known orbital period of a comet, taking just 3.3 years to make one complete trip around the Sun. Meteor expert David Asher has discovered that Earth can encounter them occasionally swarms of larger particles thrown by this comet (opens in new tab) in certain years and 2022 is predicted to be one of those years.
Two streams for the price of one
The Taurids are actually divided into two different showers: Northern Taurids and South Taurides. This is an example of what happens to the old meteor stream. Even in the beginning, the particles could not follow exactly the same orbit as their parent comet; their small divergence accumulates over time. The sun it is not the only body that gravitationally controls the orbits of particles; planets also have subtle effects on flow. As the positions of the planets are constantly changing, the particles pass closer to them in some revolutions than in others – deflecting parts of the flow, scattering and splitting it.
So what was originally a single stream diffuses into a cloud of smaller streams and isolated particles in individual orbits, crossing the Earth’s orbit at even more scattered times of the year and coming from more scattered directions until they completely blend into the general dust haze. in the solar system. Because this happens over tens of thousands of years, visible meteors from these streams are not active for a few days or even a week or two, but up to six weeks or more.
A meteor shower radiant is the point in the sky from which meteors appear to originate. But as we have already noted, the Taurid radiant is double, with the southern radiant being most active on November 5th and the northern radiant being most active on November 12th. Both cross the southern meridian and are highest in the sky around 00:30. These two radiants lie south of the known Pleiades star cluster. After 12:30 p.m., they will descend into the western sky.
So, over the next week or so, if you see a bright, slightly orange meteor gliding lazily away from that famous little spot of stars, there’s a good chance you’ve caught a glimpse of Taurid.
Moon muscles in…
And now the bad news. As we stated earlier, the timing is bad as far as the phase of the moon is concerned. This year’s Taurids are expected to be most fertile between November 5th and 12th.
And right in the middle of this time frame, on the night of November 7th into the early morning hours of November 8th, month it will charge up and light up the sky like a giant spotlight. The best way to combat bright moonlight is to try your meteor viewing this coming weekend, when the moon is below the horizon. Moonset on Saturday morning, November 5, will occur around 4:15 a.m. local time. Dawn breaks around 6 am. So the sky will be dark and moonless for about 105 minutes.
Don’t forget to put your clocks back at 2am on Sunday morning, November 6, as we return to standard time; Moonset that morning will occur around 4:25 a.m. local time. Dawn breaks about 35 minutes later, so your time in the dark sky will be much shorter.
However, the lunar eclipse will help
But wait! There will there will be a period of dark skies on the night of the full moon due to a very special circumstance: because during the morning hours of Tuesday, November 8, the full moon will pass through total lunar eclipse because it completely passes into the Earth’s shadow. Totality will last 85 minutes, during which time the Moon will be reduced to at least 1/10,000 of its normal brightness compared to just before the eclipse began. So, take advantage during the total phase and carefully scan the sky for some possible bright Taurid meteors.
In 2005 it was an exceptional year for the Taurid swarm (opens in new tab) so many amazingly brilliant meteors were seen when fireballs as bright as the full moon were witnessed. The “Halloween fireballs” branding for Encke’s spawn seems to date back to that throwback.
Will 2022 offer a repeat performance? All expectations stem from the usual caveat: meteor showers have a way of fooling everyone. Only if we go out and observe these colorful and slow meteors will we know for sure!
Good luck and clear skies!
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and visiting lecturer in New York Hayden Planetarium (opens in new tab). He writes about astronomy for Natural history magazine (opens in new tab)the Agricultural Almanac (opens in new tab) and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and further Facebook (opens in new tab).
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