Bonfire of the planets

The Moon, tomorrow morning, cruises down past Mars and Venus.


This Old Moon (that is, a slim Moon wasting away toward its death – its New position near the Sun) is at its most distant, its apogee (November 7, 22 Universal Time), besides being at its ascending node across the ecliptic (16 UT), the thicker of the two lines. It is shown at 4 times its real size.

I had thought of doing a post about Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, with fireworks in the sky – but I am still so entangled in making sure that things print right in the coming Astronomical Calendar that I didn’t even go out to see myself burnt on the Guy Fawkes bonfire. And at Halloween no trick-or-treating children rapped at our door, right in the town’s main street. What’s the world coming to?


3 thoughts on “Bonfire of the planets”

  1. Worth saying that the world’s currently enjoying some of nature’s best fireworks anyway, Guy, thanks to the latest Taurid “swarm” return. Spotted a spectacular green-yellow, magnitude -5/-7 Northern Taurid myself just last night – or more accurately, it’s flare-light, the very end of its flight, and its impressive nine-second persistent train – at 02:06 UT from NE England!

    Sightings have been coming in from across the world of increased fireball numbers, and better-than-normal Taurid rates since October 29/30 or so. The actual number of meteors isn’t great compared to showers like the August Perseids, but on Nov 6/7, for instance, I spotted 17 Taurids from 49 meteors in 4½ hours of meteor watching, scattered over three sessions between 18:51 and 03:15 (when clouds suddenly swooped across and spoilt the sky rather…). Conditions weren’t perfect earlier either. My sky limiting magnitude averaged just +5.5 overall, but the Taurid numbers were better than those I’ve seen on the same night under more transparent skies (limiting magnitudes +6.1 to +6.4) in earlier years when no “swarm” return was happening. Worth saying too that the 02:06 fireball was the only negative magnitude meteor I spotted all night, but it was definitely worth persevering for!

    Plus folks elsewhere have been luckier. Someone barely 100 miles north of me reported seeing “my” fireball and two others in the following hour and a half last night, while photos and reports online elsewhere – the site has a dedicated Taurids photo page, for example – show a fine selection of what the Taurids have been up to in the past week or so for anyone unable to get out to observe themselves (conditions here had been poor prior to last night, certainly).

    We’re never sure quite how these Taurid “swarm” returns may pan-out. Sometimes not much happens, if anything at all, but mostly there’s something a little bit unusual at least. This year’s shaping up to be similar to 2005, probably the best of the more recent returns from the past couple of decades. It’s possible the better Taurid numbers (Zenithal Hourly Rates of about 10, compared to the usual peak of circa 5, by some recent estimates), and hopefully more fireballs too, could continue till nearly mid-November, judging by that 2005 event, so worth a look out or two if skies are clear, especially if you’re out hunting for something else in the sky, like these morning-sky conjunctions!

    1. Alastair, I hardly need to ask whether, besides reporting your fireball here, and your other accurate observations, you reported in the professional places, presumably the IMO (International Meteor Oranisation, for the world’s few remaining non-meteor-anoraks). I’m sure you did, since you’re a pillar of the IMO.

      But would it also be possible or appropriate for you to give the meteor community a link to your blog comment? At the moment I can’t see how to give a link directly to the comment, rather than to the post it’s a comment on:
      Perhaps there’s someone reading this who knows how it’s done. I think it would help me and my blog.

      Until I read your news about the Taurids, they meant little more to me than what I put in the Ast. Cal., reflecting information from you. Now I seem to stand on your hillside in the cold north of England and see them almost really: a vast cloud of particles in the form of a rope in motion around the Sun, and buried in the cloud is the tiny thing they all came from, Comet Encke, and here and there in the moving cloud are these fireballs that are larger chunks lost by the comet, and these orbiting “Swarms” that burst together from the comet. You may well tell me I have much yet to learn about the real dynamics of meteor streams.

      1. Thanks, Guy!

        Yes, as a retired Vice-President of the IMO, it’s pretty well obligatory that I send them copies of my meteor data!

        The fireball results tend to be handled at a more local level – usually national to regional – because they’re so prevalent through the year generally, it would be impossible for someone to try to carry out the necessary analyses for the many seen by more than one or two people. The IMO does maintain a global fireball database, but that’s suffered from exactly this problem for many years, until in the last few, it’s become possible to directly forward reports submitted to the IMO system to such interested national and regional groups (typically maintained by the amateur meteor community, though there’s a lot of crossover between the pro and am meteor science groups anyway). This happens for the UK now via the Society for Popular Astronomy’s (SPA’s) Meteor Section. For simplicity, and again as a long-standing meteor officer for that Society, I usually just report fireballs seen from here to them, as the communication runs both ways.

        Unfortunately, the meteor community online is well aware of what’s going on with the Taurids presently, so a link to this particular blog posting, for which the Taurids are noted among the comments only, and with information already known, perhaps isn’t the most suitable. We might arrange something for a more centrally “meteoric” blog post in future, though.

        Meanwhile, Taurid rates have continued at a similarly elevated level since my previous comment (I was able to observe their activity again on both Nov 7/8 and 8/9), though in a total now of 9½ hours of meteor watching on these three nights, that 02:06 UT event on Nov 7 remains the solitary Taurid fireball I’ve spotted. A handful more have made it into the low negative magnitude range since, however (mags -1 and -2). And comments from elsewhere continue to suggest Taurid fireballs are still occurring, if maybe not with quite the same relative frequency they did back in 2005. That’s still just my impression though, and could well be overturned by subsequent analyses when more data is in, or by fresh numbers of Taurid fireballs happening over the next few days (he said hopefully!).

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