Taurid meteors

If you see a meteor in the nights around now, it may be a Taurid, or, less likely, a Delta Aurigid.

ho161009taurids

Don’t expect to see the spectacular abundance this picture may suggest.

The Taurids are a copious but diffuse stream, or family of streams.  They are particles shed from Encke’s Comet: 2P Encke, which among comets is perhaps second in fame, and is first in shortness of period and history of known visits.

Orbit of Comet sP Encke

Comet Encke over three years of its 3.3-year orbit.  Grid lines on the plane of the ecliptic are 1 astronomical unit (Sun-Earth distance) apart.

The meteors have spread into a sort of vast tube-like revolving cloud of which the comet’s orbit is merely the approximate center.  Earth takes a month or more to travel through this cloud, and on any night from late September through October and even early December a few of the meteors may be seen.  The peak, such as it is, may be about October 10, but it is far from being the sharp high peak of some of the other annual showers.

And during this span of time the radiant of the Taurids shifts steadily eastward, as happens in general with meteor streams because of the changing direction of Earth’s own travel; which is why the meteors’ trails around now may be traceable back to the region of Aries, later Taurus.

There is more detail about the Taurids, of course, in the “Meteors” section of Astronomical Calendar 2016.

 

1 thought on “Taurid meteors”

  1. My astronomy club had our last public astronomy program of 2016 on Mount Tamalpais on Saturday night October 8. It was a beautiful night for skywatching, clear, calm, and dry. The waxing quarter Moon was the highlight of the public program, along with bright double stars, brighter star clusters, and the Andromeda galaxy. The park ranger started chasing the public out at 10:00 pm PDT, too early, except for the fact that she had been at work all day and needed to get some sleep.

    Club members are allowed to stay as late as we please. We saw a few meteors, more after the Moon went down at 12:00. The weather stayed fine all night, so I continued to observe, although I did take a couple of naps. Well after everybody else had left, around 03:30, I saw the brightest meteor I’ve seen in a while. It caught my eye in my peripheral vision, was bright white and then flashed vivid green in an expanding ball, perhaps 15 or 20 arcminutes across, that faded out in a couple of seconds, and left a smoke trail that persisted for half a minute. The meteor traveled due east from just east of the zenith halfway to the eastern horizon. It it was a Taurid meteor it was coming nearly straight in.

    Before dawn I had lovely views of the Orion nebula, and my first sightings of M47 and M46 since last winter. During dawn I caught my first sight of Jupiter emerging from conjunction with the Sun and climbing toward Mercury.

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