The Taurids meteor shower could be spectacular this year!

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The Taurids refer to a meteor shower associated with Comet Encke, observable every year from mid-September to late November. Most common from late October to early November, meteors are sometimes called “Halloween fireballs.” Although less impressive and less popular than their summer cousins ​​the Perseids, the Taurids can still trace beautiful trails of light in the autumn sky.

In reality, the Taurids -whose radiant is, as its name suggests, in the constellation of Taurus- are made up of two well-differentiated showers: the Southern Taurids, whose peak of activity is around November 4 or 5, and the Northern Taurids, which peak between November 12 and 13. Both come from Comet Encke, named after the German astronomer Johann Franz Encke, who determined its periodicity. It was a French astronomer, Pierre Méchain, who discovered it in 1786.

The Taurids are not among the most prolific meteor showers; They appear at the rate of about five per hour, even at their peak of activity. But this year might be an exception: The American Meteor Society notes that there is generally a noticeable increase in fireball activity every seven years. The last major Taurid shower was in 2015, so this year it might be worth keeping an eye out for the show…

A meteor shower that lasts more than two months

Encke’s Comet is the periodic comet with the shortest period: it completes its orbit around the Sun in just 3.3 years. Both Encke and the Taurids are believed to be the remains of a much larger comet, which disintegrated in the last 20,000 to 30,000 years, releasing the largest flux of material into the inner solar system. However, these fragments are widely scattered in space, which is why we can distinguish two sets of meteors (north and south) and why it takes several weeks for the Earth to cross them, allowing us to enjoy the show much longer than in the case of others. swarms

The Taurids can be seen from mid-September to the end of November, as long as the constellation Taurus is above the horizon. The best time to look for Taurids is after midnight, when Taurus is high in the sky and the sky is dark and cloudless, avoiding moonlight of course, which would dwarf the brightness of fainter meteors. As with any nocturnal sighting, it will take about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark.

Location of the star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus. © IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg) – CC BY 3.0

To find Taurus, first look for the constellation Orion, recognizable by the hourglass formed by the seven brightest stars that compose it (four stars form the vertices of a rectangle in the center of which three other stars are aligned quite close together, the “ Orion’s belt”); then look northeast of this constellation to find Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus.

When trying to observe meteors, don’t look directly at Taurus, as meteors closer to the radiant form shorter trails and are harder to spot. Instead, look around nearby constellations to maximize your chances of spotting the most spectacular shooting stars.

Ideal Viewing Conditions Forecast for Late October

The Southern Taurids are active from September 10 to November 20, while the Northern Taurids will be active from October 20 to December 10. This year, late October, when the two showers will overlap, might be the best time to watch for these meteors. Note that the new moon on October 25 will provide ideal viewing conditions (hopefully clear skies on that day).

Taurids are generally larger than other meteors and move relatively slowly across the sky, at about 28 km/s (vs. 59 km/s for the Perseids, for comparison), producing very long light trails; according to NASA, they can shine down to altitudes as low as 66 km. If they are rare, they at least have the credit of “securing the show” in each of their appearances.

Note also that the Orionid meteor shower, the remains of the famous Halley’s comet, also started a few days ago and will be active until November 7th. In general, it is possible to observe 10 to 20 shooting stars per hour. These will be much faster than the Taurids: their speed reaches 66 km/s. The peak of activity is planned for the night of October 21 to 22; that night, the Moon will be 21% full, says the American Meteor Society. The best time to view them is when the Orion constellation is high in the sky, well after midnight or even in the early morning hours.

Also not to forget: the Leonids, from November 3 to December 2 (peak: November 17-18) and the Geminids, from November 19 to December 24 (peak: December 13-14). Let’s remember that the Geminids are one of the most intense meteor showers of the year (with around 150 meteors per hour in ideal viewing conditions). ” This is the only major downpour that offers good activity before midnight, as the constellation of Gemini is well placed after 10:00 p.m. says the American Meteor Society.


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