Over the next week, keep a close eye on the night sky for the possibility of spotting an unusually bright meteor, as there’s a chance Earth will encounter a swarm of unusually large particles capable of generating some really eye-catching bright balls. of fire, the kind that prompts the unsuspecting public to call the police.
Every year around this time, Earth passes through a large stream of debris left behind by periodic comet Encke. The dusty material associated with this comet hits Earth’s atmosphere at around 19 miles (30 km) per second and burns up, creating the Taurid meteor shower.
The 2022 version of the Taurids could turn out to be particularly brilliant and put on an eye-catching sight. But also, this year, unfortunately, those meteors will come up against some significant competition in the form of a full or nearly full moon, which will light up the sky most nights and likely drown out most of the weaker streaks.
Related: Taurid meteor shower 2022: when, where and how to see it
The Taurids are actually one of the longest of the year with recognizable activity (at least two shower members per hour), with their first precursors appearing around October 20 and their last laggards disappearing around November 30. But it is during a one-week period extending from November 5 to November 12 that the Taurids are most active.
During this period, approximately five to 15 meteors can be seen per hour by a single observer with clear, dark skies (city lights or even a light haze will greatly reduce the number of faint meteors seen). These meteors are often yellowish-orange and as the meteors appear to move rather slowly.
We will come back to discuss this handicap a little later. But first, let’s talk about the characteristics of Taurid meteors.
Bigger meteoroids expected this year
Meteors – commonly known as “shooting stars” – are produced when pinhead-sized debris and grains of sand enter and burn in the Earth’s atmosphere. In the case of the Taurids, they are attributed to debris left by Comet Encke or possibly by a much larger comet which, in disintegrating, left Encke and much other rubble in its wake.
Indeed, Comet Encke is considered by some astronomers to be a piece of a huge comet that disintegrated 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. These comet breakups are often caused by gravitational encounters with Earth or other planets. This supposed breakup may explain why there are so many Encke-like pieces moving around the inner solar system. In 1982, two British astronomers, SV M (Victor) Clube and William Napier, even postulated that it was a huge fragment of Comet Encke’s parent which produced a 5 megaton explosion over Tunguska, Siberia in June 1908.
Known as the Tauride Swarm, these bright meteors are created when Earth encounters a group of pea- and pebble-sized fragments of the comet which then burn up in the atmosphere.
Encke has the shortest known orbital period for a comet, taking just 3.3 years to make a full revolution around the sun. Meteor expert David Asher has found that Earth can periodically encounter swarms of larger particles thrown off by this comet (opens in a new tab) certain years and 2022 should be one of those years.
Two streams for the price of one
The Taurids are actually divided into two different showers: the Northern Taurids and the Southern Taurids. This is an example of what happens to an aged meteor stream. Even at first, the particles couldn’t travel in exactly the same orbit as their parent comet; their slight divergence accumulates over time. The sun is not the only body gravitationally controlling particle orbits; the planets also have subtle effects on the flow. As the positions of the planets are constantly changing, particles pass closer to them on some revolutions than on others – diverting parts of the flow, fanning it and dividing it.
Thus, what was originally a stream diffuses into a cloud of minor streams and isolated particles in individual orbits, traversing Earth’s orbit at even more dispersed times of the year and coming from more dispersed directions until ‘until they’re all stirred up in the general dust fog in the solar system. Because it has been going on for tens of thousands of years, the meteors visible from these streams are not active for several days or even a week or two, but up to six weeks or more.
The radiant of a meteor shower is the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to originate. But as we have already noted, the Tauris radiant is dual with the most active southern radiant on November 5th and the most active northern radiant on November 12th. Both cross the southern meridian and are highest in the sky around 12:30 p.m. These two radiants lie just south of the famous Pleiades star cluster. After 12:30 p.m., they will descend the western sky.
So over the next week, if you see a lightly tinted bright orange meteor gliding rather lazily away from that famous little star patch, chances are you’ve spotted a Taurid.
Muscles of the moon in…
Now on to the bad news. As we mentioned earlier, the timing is poor when it comes to the phase of the moon. This year’s Taurids are expected to be most prolific between November 5-12.
And right in the middle of this period, on the night of November 7 to the early hours of November 8, the moon will fill and illuminate the sky like a giant searchlight. The best way to combat moonlight is to try to spot your meteor this coming weekend when the moon is below the horizon. Moonset on Saturday morning, November 5, arrives around 4:15 a.m. regional daylight time. Dawn breaks around 6 o’clock in the morning. So the sky will be dark and moonless for about 105 minutes.
Remember to set your clocks back to 2 a.m. on Sunday, November 6, as we return to standard time; moonset that morning will come around 4:25 a.m. local standard time. Dawn breaks about 35 minutes later, so your dark sky time will be much shorter.
However, the lunar eclipse will help
But wait! The will be be dark sky weather on the night of the full moon due to a very special circumstance: during the morning hours of Tuesday, November 8, the full moon will experience a total lunar eclipse when it passes completely into the shadow of the Earth. Totality will last 85 minutes and during this time the moon will be dimmed to at least 1/10,000 of its normal brightness compared to just before the eclipse began. So, take advantage of it during the total phase and carefully scan the sky for possible bright Taurid meteors.
Read more: Beaver Blood Moon 2022 Lunar Eclipse: Everything You Need To Know
The year 2005 has been an exceptional year for the Tauride Swarm (opens in a new tab) as many incredibly bright meteors have been seen when fireballs as bright as the full moon have been observed. The “Halloween fireballs” branding for Encke’s spawn seems to date from this return.
Will 2022 deliver repeat performance? All expectations come with the usual caveat: meteor showers have a way of fooling everyone. Only by stepping outside and looking at these colorful, slow-moving meteors will we know for sure!
Good luck and clear skies!
Joe Rao is an instructor and guest speaker at New York’s Hayden Planetarium (opens in a new tab). He writes on astronomy for natural history review (opens in a new tab)the Farmers Almanac (opens in a new tab) and other publications. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) and on Facebook (opens in a new tab).
#Dont #brilliant #Taurid #meteor #shower #week