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The Taurids Meteor Shower of Mid-November

An avid camper and hiker as well as writer and astronomy lover, Jose Juan Gutierrez has always been inspired by the sky

What is a Meteor Shower?

A meteor shower, or a shooting star event as they are also known, is a space event that occurs when the earth´s orbit around the sun crosses the path of the leftovers of a periodic comet. This leftover debris is created when a comit enters the solar system on its orbit around the sun. When the comet gets sufficiently close to the sun, the sun´s radiation sublimates the ice and produces a coma and a long tail composed of ice, dust and rocks.

As the comet continues its path into and out of the solar system, this debris is spread out along the path of the comet. The earth, on its orbit around the sun, may encounter the debris left by comets on any given month of the year; therefore, there are several meteor showers, the Lyrids, Arietids, Perseids, Orionids and Taurids, to name a few, and they are named after the constellation from which they seem to radiate.

We see "shooting stars" when the bits of material enter the earth´s atmosphere and light up in the sky due to friction and speed. The meteors are very tiny and disintegrate before reaching the earth´s surface. In very rare cases, a piece of debris is able to reach the ground, and then it is called a meteorite.

Meteor Shower

The Taurids Meteor Shower

The Taurids meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Taurus from which the meteors appear to radiate. The meteors are associated with the Comet Encke, which has an orbital period of 3.3 years. Because the Taurids are widespread in space, they occur from early October through the first week in December. The number of meteors that can be viewed with the naked eye range from 5-7 on any given night.

Even though the Taurids create shooting stars at a low rate, the material from this comet is heavier, with particles the size of pebbles instead of dust grains; therefore, when this material enters the earth´s atmosphere, they can be seen as big fireballs that travel across the night sky.

Visible in the Northern Hemisphere

Although the Taurids meteor shower has different peak view times for each hemisphere, the North Taurids will peak in 2017 on November 11-12. The Taurids is an annual event, meaning it occurs year after year on the same dates. The radiant point in the direction of Taurus can be located using Orion´s belt in the night sky as a point of reference. One can expect to observe the meteors again in 2018 and subsequent years.

Taurids: Remnants of Comet Encke

This comet completes an orbit around the sun every 3.3 years, which is one of the shortest orbits of any bright comet. Encke, like other comets, left material after it approached the sun enough to cause its ice to sublimate; the material is spread out as a "coma" several times the earth´s diameter plus a long tail that may stretch one astronomical unit or the distance that separates the earth from the sun. The material of dust, ice and grains remains in the path of the comet and the meteor shower occurs when the earth´s orbit around the sun encounters this material in space.

The Taurids´radiant point is in the direction of the constellation Taurus the Bull. Typically, Taurids are seen at a rate of about 5-7 meteors per hour, moving at a speed of 65,000 miles/h. Even though this shower does not produce too many shooting stars per hour, it may produce a very bright one from time to time, making the time spent outdoors worth the while. The biggest meteors, the size of pebbles, can light up as bright as the moon, leaving behind long trails of smoke. They may be called "Halloween fireballs" because of the time of year at which they are seen.

Due to the gravitational pull of bodies such as planets, the Taurids have extended in space, making it necessary to have distinct sectors labeled the Northern and southern Taurids.

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Comet Encke

Northern and Southern Taurids

The leftovers of Comet Encke have spread out due to the gravitational pull of planets, especially the gas giant Jupiter. Due to this wide range of material extended out in space, the earth takes longer to travel through it and the meteors can be observed roaming the sky for a longer time period. The southern Taurids become active from September through November and the Northern Taurids from October through December.

Shooting Stars

Shooting Stars

Shooting Stars

Best Time to Observe the Northern Taurids

Although the Taurids are observable from October to December, only about five per hour are visible, and moonlight can hinder the ability to have a clear view of them. The best time to observe them is between midnight and dawn, during the darkest hours. For a better view, it´s best to find a place away from the city´s light pollution and on the clearest night possible. A moonless night is also a good time to spot meteors, and in 2017 November 11 and 12, during a new moon, will be the best days to catch a glimpse of shooting stars.

Your Knowledge of Meteor Showers

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. How are Meteor Showers Named?
    • After the comet they are associated with
    • After the constellation they seem to radiate
  2. When is the Best Time to Observe Meteor Showers?
    • Between midnight and dawn
    • A liitle after dark
  3. What is a Comet´s Orbital Period?
    • It´s the time it takes for a comet to complete a round trip around the sun
    • It´s the time needed to circle the earth
  4. What is another name with which Meteor Showers are known?
    • Lighted stars
    • Shooting stars
  5. What Causes a Comet to Leave Material in Space
    • The Moon´s light
    • The sun´s radiation

Answer Key

  1. After the constellation they seem to radiate
  2. Between midnight and dawn
  3. It´s the time it takes for a comet to complete a round trip around the sun
  4. Shooting stars
  5. The sun´s radiation

How to Locate the Taurids in the Sky

First, try to locate the constellation Orion, which is one of the most prominent in the sky. From Orion, find the three stars that give shape to Orion’s belt. From the picture, you can see that Orions´belt points to Taurus and a further above to the Pleiades, a prominent star cluster. A little above Taurus is where the Taurids radiant is located. The shooting stars are visible all over the dark sky. Gazing just into the radiant may prevent you from seeing some of them. Remember that meteors only light up when entering the earth’s atmosphere; therefore, your gaze should cover a wide amplitude of the sky.


When to Observe the Taurids

The Taurids can be observed in both hemispheres: the southern Taurids from about the first week of September to the third week of November and the northern Taurids from the third week of October to the last week of November.

The Northern Taurids Meteor Shower

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