Science

The northern Taurid fireballs can be seen throughout November

The northern Taurid fireballs can be seen throughout November

The northern Taurid fireballs can be seen throughout November

A bright fireball is seen over Brkin, Slovenia, on November 12, 2015, during the Taurid swarm. Another swarm is upon us this month, with fireballs visible in the sky throughout November. (Marko Korosec, Solent News/Shutterstock)

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ATLANTA — The Taurid “swarm” is still going strong this month, with bright meteors known as fireballs visible around the world in the night sky.

The southern Taurids peaked last week, with fireball sightings lasting through the first week of November, but it’s not over yet. The Taurid meteor shower consists of two streams, and the northern Taurids are forecast to peak on Saturday, according to EarthSky.

“The Taurids only hit maybe five meteors an hour, but there’s always the chance that one of those five could be a fireball, which is brighter than any star or planet in the sky,” said Robert Lunsford, fireball report coordinator for the US meteor society. “Only the sun and moon are brighter than normal fireballs, so they’re pretty spectacular when you see them.”

The South Taurids last from about September 23rd to November 12th, while the North Taurids are active from about October 13th to December 2nd. When two showers are active at the same time, there may be an increase in fireballs, especially during year of the Taurid swarm such as this one.

Showers peak where the Earth is closest to the center of each stream. The swarm forms when Jupiter is close enough to pull in the streams with its gravity, causing the debris to condense and form spikes in the fireballs. It last happened in 2015, and before that in 2008, creating a seven-year repeat that the meteor society has predicted will happen again in 2022.

“It’s a very interesting shower that produces a lot of fireballs,” said Mike Hankey, operations manager for the American Meteor Society and creator of its fireball tracking program. “It’s always been known for fireballs, but we can definitely see an increase in the data every day this month. There have been a lot of fireballs already.”

Origin of the Taurids

The Taurids radiate from the direction of the Taurus constellation, although it is best not to look in that area because meteor trails last the shortest then. Fireballs will be seen all over the sky, and won’t be disturbed by the waning bright full moon on November 8, as they can overshadow most elements of the night sky.

The South and North Taurids originate from components of comet Encke, which has the shortest orbit around the sun of any major comet in our solar system at just over three years. Each time Encke passes Earth in its orbit, it leaves a new trail of debris, making it a major producer of meteoroids. The strain is so great that our planet needs several weeks to go through the meteor shower.

Comet Encke will return in October 2023.

Seeing a fireball

Taurid meteors tend to move slowly, but are sometimes very bright, depending on their size. According to NASA, meteors larger than 3.3 feet tend to move the slowest and shine the brightest. Fireballs can be seen moving across the sky for several seconds, while most meteors are only visible for a millisecond. Fireballs are often described as colorful, red, orange, or yellow.

“You won’t always see fireballs, but there are meteors every night of the year,” Lunsford said. “It’s something you can do cheaply. You don’t even need a telescope; just your eyes are perfect.”

Other space events this year

According to the data, there are three more meteor showers you can see before the end of 2022 EarthSky’s 2022 Meteor Shower Guide. Here are the showers and their predicted peaks:

• November 18: Leonids

• December 14: Geminids

• December 22: Ursidi

There is one more full moon on the Old Peasant’s Almanac calendar for 2022: the cold moon on December 7.

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