The next few days are going to be exciting for those who love sky gazing. Two meteor showers, the Taurids and the Leonids are going to peak this week along with a super-new moon.
Annual meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a stream of the debris left behind in the wake of comets and asteroids. Over time, the pieces of grit-like debris in these streams distribute themselves along the length of the parent object’s orbit around the solar system.
Shooting stars are spotted whenever one of these pieces of debris collides with the Earth’s atmosphere, typically burning up at an altitude of around 70 to 100 km.
The Taurid Meteor Shower
Active between October 20 and December 10, the November Taurid meteor shower has the longest span of more than a month and a half. The shower peaks around November 12 every year. Unfortunately, the Moon reached its full phase on Halloween, and the meteors in the first week of November was washed away by the moonlight.
However, the peak of the shower is close to the New Moon, and hence the moonlight will present minimal interference. With each meteor shower, there is a pivotal point in the sky associated with it, the radiant. All the meteors appear to originate from the radiant. The best show of the meteor showers takes place when the radiant is well up in the night sky. You can use these space apps to locate the radiant easily.
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Mostly there’s a single radiant point associated with every meteor shower. But the Taurids have two. That’s because the Taurids are divided into the Northern Taurids and the Southern Taurids. Over some time, and due to the gravitational influence of other planets, a single stream of debris splits. That mostly happens when the stream gets old.
The two radiants lie just south of the Pleiades star cluster. So, during the next couple of weeks, if you see a bright, slightly tinted orange meteor sliding rather lazily away from that famous little smudge of stars, you can be sure it was likely a Taurid.
The radiants of this meteor shower rise a couple of hours after sunset. The meteor shower will put up a great show throughout the night.
The Leonid Meteor Shower
Active from November 6 to November 30 is the Leonid meteor shower that will peak five days after the Taurids, on November 17. Unlike the Taurids, the Leonids will put up their best show in the early hours of November 17. The radiant of this shower lies in the constellation of Leo.
This shower can be traced back to the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle and has put on some real shows over the centuries in the form of intense meteor storms that produce hundreds of visible meteors per hour.
The American Meteor Society says it’s unlikely we’ll see such a storm in our lifetimes (the most recent was in 2001), although 2030 might see a minor storm. This year, the Leonids do offer the opportunity to see around 15 meteors per hour.
Things To Keep In Mind
Before you step out to enjoy the cosmic fireworks, remember the following
- There is no need for any telescope or binoculars to watch the November meteor showers. Just find an open space in the dark.
- Make sure there is no artificial light pollution near your viewing spot.
- Give your eyes enough time to adapt to the darkness. It usually takes 20-30 minutes.
- If possible, relax on a lawn chair to enjoy the show of the heavens above.
- Good things always come to those who wait. So be patient while watching the shower. It takes time to spot them!
Lastly, remember the words of a wise man: “Meteor showers are like fishing. You go. You enjoy the night air and maybe the company of friends. Sometimes you catch something.”
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