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The Taurid ‘swarm’ is still going strong this month, with bright meteors known as fireballs visible across the world in the night sky.
The Southern Taurids peaked last week, with fireball sightings throughout the first week of November, but it’s not over yet. The Taurid meteor shower is made up of two streams, and the Northern Taurids are expected to peak on Saturday, according to EarthSky.
“The Taurids only peak at maybe five meteors per hour, but there’s always a chance that one of those five is a fireball, which is brighter than any star or planet in the world. sky,” said Robert Lunsford, the fireball report coordinator for the American Meteor Society. “Only the sun and the moon are brighter than normal fireballs, so they’re quite spectacular when you see one.”
The Southern Taurids are active from around September 23 to around November 12, while the Northern Taurids are active from around October 13 to around December 2. When both showers are active simultaneously, there can be an increase in fireballs, especially during a Taurid swarm year like this.
The showers reach their respective peaks at the points where the Earth is closest to the center of each stream. The swarm occurs when Jupiter is close enough to pull the streams with its gravity, causing debris to condense and creating a spike of fireballs. The last time this happened was in 2015, and before that in 2008, creating a seven-year repeat that the Meteor Society says will happen again in 2022.
“It’s a very interesting shower that produces a lot of fireballs,” said Mike Hankey, director of operations for the American Meteor Society and creator of its fireball tracking program. “He’s always been known for his fireballs, but we can definitely see an increase in data every day this month. There’s been a lot of fireballs already.
The Taurids radiate from the direction of the constellation Taurus, although it is best not to look into this area as the meteor trails then last the shortest period. Fireballs will be seen all over the sky, and they won’t be bothered by the waning bright November 8 full moon either, as they can eclipse most features of the night sky.
The Southern and Northern Taurids both derive from components of Comet Encke, which has the shortest orbit around the sun of any major comet in our solar system at just over three years. Each time Encke passes Earth in its orbit, it leaves a new trail of debris, making it a major producer of meteoroids. The strain is so great that it takes our planet several weeks to get through the meteor shower.
Comet Encke will return in October 2023.
Taurid meteors tend to be slow moving but are sometimes very bright, depending on their size. According to NASA, meteors larger than a meter in diameter tend to move the slowest and shine the brightest. Fireballs can be seen moving across the sky for a few seconds, while most meteors are only visible for a millisecond. Fireballs are often described as colored, either red, orange or yellow.
“You won’t always see fireballs, but there are meteors every night of the year,” Lunsford said. “It’s something you can do inexpensively. You don’t even need a telescope; just your eyes are perfect.
There are three more meteor showers you can see in the rest of 2022, according to EarthSky’s 2022 meteor shower guide. Here are the showers and their predicted peaks:
• November 18: Leonids
• December 14: Geminids
• December 22: Ursids
There is another full moon on The Old Farmer’s Almanac calendar for 2022: the cold moon on December 7.
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