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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Taurid Meteor Shower.


TAURID METEOR SHOWER: Earth is passing through a stream of gravelly debris from Comet Encke, source of the annual Taurid meteor shower. Because the debris stream is not very congested, Taurid meteor rates are usually low, around 5 per hour. The special thing about Taurids is that they tend to be fireballs. Amateur astronomer Thomas Ashcraft photographed this Taurid exploding over eastern New Mexico on Nov. 9th:

"It was brighter than the full moon and its brightness penetrated the eyelids of sleepers!" says Ashcraft. The disintegrating meteoroid ionized a column of air that acted as a mirror for radio waves. "The soundtrack of the video is the echo of some distant transmitters I recorded at 61.250 MHz and 67.250 MHz," he explains.
Last night, Nov. 9-10, NASA's network of all-sky fireball cameras recorded 10 Taurids streaking across the southern United States. The orbits of those meteoroids are color-coded yellow in this diagram of the inner solar system:


In the diagram, the location of Earth is denoted by a red splat. Taurids weren't the only meteoroids hitting our planet last night. Red, orange and green orbits correspond to random debris not associated with Comet Encke's debris stream.

Forecasters expect the Taurid fireball shower to peak on the nights around Nov. 12th. Monitor the realtime meteor gallery for the latest sightings.


Observing
The Taurids have been identified as a very old meteor stream. There are two branches of the Taurids active during its long duration in the Autumn months (or Spring months in the Southern Hemisphere). The Northern Taurids are active from October 12 to December 2. Maximum is also of long duration and extends over November 4-7 (λ=221-224 deg) from an average radiant of RA=54 deg, DEC=+21 deg. The radiant's daily motion is +0.78 deg in RA and +0.19 deg in DEC. The Southern Taurids are active during September 17 to November 27. They reach maximum during October 30 to November 7 (λ=216-224 deg) from an average radiant of RA=53 deg, DEC=+12 deg. This radiant's daily motion is +0.99 deg in RA and +0.28 deg in DEC. Both showers possess maximum hourly rates near 7.

Not an Impressive Taurid Meteor Shower

November 12, 2011; 8:08 AM
You may have to wait for a while if you really wanted to see a shooting star thanks to a meteor shower. The moon is positioned close to where the North Taurid meteor shower radiates from, so the shower is very difficult to see.
If you are patient and really want to see this meteor shower, the best time to look would be just after midnight. On average, there will be only 10 meteors per hour and with luck maybe you can "catch" one.
The space map below shows where to look to see the North Taurid meteor shower and is courtesy of a favorite astronomy site of mine, EarthSky.org. This site is downright terrific and was the inspiration for this blog, and the site has graciously allowed me to use many skymaps in previous blogs. This site is an absolutely fantastic source for all sorts of information about the field of science in general.
Some facts about the Taurid meteor shower:
Due to the gravitational effect of planets, especially Jupiter, the Taurids have spread out over time, allowing separate segments labeled the Northern Taurids and Southern Taurids to become observable.
The Taurid stream has a cycle of activity that peaks roughly every 2,500 to 3,000 years, when its core passes nearer to Earth and produces more intense showers. In fact, because of the separate "branches" (nighttime in one part of the year and daytime in another and Northern/Southern in each case) there are two (possibly overlapping) peaks separated by a few centuries, every 3,000 years. Some astronomers note that dates for megalith structures such as Stonehenge are associated with these peaks. The next peak is expected around 3000 AD.
The Taurids are the remains of comet Encke.
Encke and the Taurids are believed to be remnants of a much larger comet, which has disintegrated over the past 20,000 to 30,000 years, breaking into several pieces and releasing material by normal cometary activity.
The Taurids are made up of weightier material, pebbles instead of dust grains.
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