Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fireballs Possible As Meteor Shower Peaks Wed. & Thur. Nights

Taurid fireball seen on November 9, 2015 by Steve Shubert in St. Louis, Missouri.
A Taurid fireball photographed on Monday, 2015 November 9 by Steve Shubert in St. Louis
(Image Source: ).

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Large and bright meteors known as fireballs may be visible this week, weather-permitting, as the North Taurid Meteor Shower peaks Wednesday and Thursday nights. Several fireballs have been observed this-past week, following the November 5 peak of the South Taurid Meteor Shower, and the north stream of the Taurids may be just as eventful.

The North Taurid Meteor Shower will actually peak on Thursday Evening, 2015 November 12 at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) / 23:00 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Of course, as with most meteor showers, the best time for viewing is between local midnight and dawn, when the Earth is rotating into the meteor shower. Both Wednesday night / early Thursday morning and Thursday night / early Friday morning should be good for viewing this meteor shower.

According to the American Meteor Society, fireballs seem to, particularly, come with the South and North Taurid Meteor Showers every seven years. It seems that every seven years the Earth encounters a stream of larger-than-usual particles from the parent comet. The last good year to observe fireballs with these meteor showers was in 2008. So, although the Taurids are only known for displaying about 5 to 10 (in a good year, perhaps as many as 15) meteors per hour near the peak, 2015 could be another good year for fireballs from this meteor shower.

A meteor shower normally consists of dust particles related to a comet. Each time a comet approaches the Sun, the comet loses dust particles following the melting or sublimating of ice on the comet. These dust particles, called meteoroids, continue to follow the same orbit as the comet and form a meteoroid stream. Each year, as the Earth orbits the Sun, the Earth passes through several of these meteoroid streams, becoming Earth's meteor showers.

The Earth's gravity then attracts many of these meteoroids and they fall to Earth; then, they are viewed by people as meteors as they burn-up in the atmosphere. Most are extremely small and burn-up completely. From time-to-time, larger particles enter the atmosphere and create brilliant displays known as fireballs or bolides. If these particles are large enough, they may not completely burn-up and land on Earth as a meteorite.

Comet Enke is the parent comet of the South and North Taurid Meteor Showers. This comet has the shortest orbit around the Sun (3.3 years) of all of the reasonably bright comets. The faint Comet 311P/PANSTARRS does have a slightly shorter orbital period of 3.2 years. Meteor showers are not normally named after the parent comet.

These meteors are known as Taurids, as they appear to emanate from the Constellation Taurus the Bull. Hence, Taurus is known as the radiant point of this meteor shower. However, you should not, necessarily, be looking only at Taurus, when looking for meteors in this shower. Meteors can appear in any part of the sky at any time (although a meteor's trail may tend to point back toward the radiant).

Actually, there are two or three meteor showers, that seem to appear from the same general area of the sky. As mentioned, there is the South Taurid Meteor Shower (which peaks close to November 5) and there is the North Taurid Meteor Shower (which peaks close to November 12)---some consider these two part of the same, extended, meteor shower. Additionally, there is a Beta Taurid Meteor Shower (which peaks close to June 26). The Beta Taurids is, primarily, a daytime meteor shower, which is mainly observed as special electro-magnetic interference on radio frequencies. All three meteor showers come from the same stream of meteoroids, with the same parent comet, which the Earth encounters each year in June and again in October / November.

To more easily see the North Taurid Meteor Shower, it is better to be away from city lights, as artificial lighting can drown-out the dimmer meteors. The best time to see any meteor shower is between local midnight and morning twilight, when the Earth is actually rotating-into the meteor shower.

Binoculars and telescopes are not very useful for finding meteors. Meteors streak across the sky in a very short period of time, far too short to aim binoculars or a telescope. So, the best way to view a meteor shower is to lie on a blanket or beach towel on the ground, or use a reclining chair, in an area with a good view of the entire sky (with few obstructions such as buildings, trees, or hills), and keep scanning the entire sky.

The day before this meteor shower peaks, the Moon reaches the New Moon Phase (Lunation # 1149): 2015 November 11 at 12:47 p.m. EST / 17:47 UTC. Hence, no bright Moon will be visible after midnight, during the peak of this meteor shower. This is good because bright moonlight will not interfere with viewing the dimmer meteors in the early morning hours, when it is best to view this meteor shower.

Of course, meteor showers. like all celestial observations, are weather-permitting. If there are more than a very few clouds in the sky, meteors will be much more difficult to find.

So, if you go out to see the North Taurid Meteor Shower, start looking for meteors around local midnight, or perhaps a little later. Make sure you have a good site where you can see most of the sky, and that sky is relatively clear. Be sure to dress properly for the Autumn, early morning temperatures.

And, you want to go out ahead of time, before you actually start looking for meteors, to get your eyes accustomed to the dark sky. Dark-adapting your eyes for meteor-watching could take up to a half-hour.

More on the North and South Taurid Meteor Showers:
Link 1 >>>
Link 2 >>>
Link 3 >>>
Link 4 >>>

More on the Beta Taurid Meteor Shower:
Link >>>

More on the Constellation Taurus the Bull:
Link 1 >>>
Link 2 >>>

More on Comet Encke: Link >>>

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

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