Tag Archives: Taurid meteor

The Taurid Swarm is Upon Us!

Posted on by .

Every year from September-November, the Earth passes through a broad stream of debris left by Comet Encke.  The dust associated with the comet hits the Earth’s atmosphere at 65,000 mph and burns up, creating the Taurid meteor shower.  Most years the shower is weak, and only a few Taurid meteors can be seen each night.  Other years, the Taurids can put on a show.

This year, the Taurids may be more active than usual.

Bright Taurid fireballs may be more numerous this year, according to some scientists.  Known as the Taurid “swarm,” these bright meteors are created when the Earth runs into a group of pebble-sized fragments from the comet that then burn up in the atmosphere.

“The annual Taurid meteor shower is going on right now, and we are seeing steady activity in our meteor cameras,” said Bill Cooke, lead for the NASA Meteoroid Environments Office. “Individuals should not be surprised if they see a bright meteor or fireball over the next few nights.”

Taurid meteors can be seen any time the constellation Taurus is above the horizon during the months of September, October, and November. The best time to look for Taurids is after midnight, when Taurus is high in the sky, and when the sky is dark and clear, with no moonlight to mask the fainter meteors.  Given the behavior of past Taurid swarms, increased fireball activity may be seen during the last week of October and the first two weeks of November.

A bright Taurid fireball recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station in Tullahoma, Tennessee in 2014.

A bright Taurid fireball recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station in Tullahoma, Tennessee in 2014.

A bright Taurid fireball recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station in Cartersville, Georgia in 2012.

A bright Taurid fireball recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station in Cartersville, Georgia in 2012.

A bright Taurid fireball recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station in Cartersville, Georgia in 2013.  The bright orb is the Moon.

A bright Taurid fireball recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station in Cartersville, Georgia in 2013. The bright orb is the Moon.

Halloween Fireballs also known as Taurid Meteors are Upon Us

Posted on by .

“Halloween fireballs” or Taurid meteors are frequently seen in the night sky from mid-October until mid-November. The Marshall all-sky camera network captured an image of an early Halloween fireball Tuesday morning. The fireball appeared low on the horizon from Huntsville at 6:10 a.m. Tuesday morning and was visible just above trees from the Tullahoma station.

“The bolide or fireball appeared some 44 miles above a point midway between the towns of Stanton and Mason, Tennessee and moved slightly north of east at a speed 3 times faster than that of the International Space Station.” said Dr. Bill Cooke, lead of Marshall Space Flight Center’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Ala.  “The fireball finally terminated above the town of Pinson, which is southeast of Jackson, TN.,” Cooke continued, “with an altitude at last visibility of 18.1 miles, which is fairly low for a meteor.”

Widely referred to as shooting stars, meteors are generated when debris enters and burns up in Earth’s atmosphere. Taurids are thought to be debris left behind by Encke’s comet.

Image credit:  NASA/MSFC

 

Taurids Dust the November Sky

Posted on by .


The Orionid meteor shower is over, as Earth has finally left the wide stream of debris produced by Comet Halley. However, we are now encountering particles produced by Comet Encke, the second comet to be assigned a name (Halley was the first). This debris wake is much larger, lasting many weeks, causing the Taurid complex of meteor showers — the South Taurids, which peak on October 10, and the North Taurids, which peak on November 12. Rates are low, only about 5 per hour, so why the interest?

1) Comet Encke is thought by some astronomers to be a piece of a larger comet that broke up 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. These comet break-ups are often caused by gravitational encounters with Earth or other planets — Jupiter especially is a bit of a Solar System bully. This break-up may explain why there are so many Encke-like pieces moving around the inner Solar System, some of them pretty big. One astronomer has even postulated that it was a huge fragment of Comet Encke’s parent that produced a 10 megaton explosion over Siberia back in 1908.

2) Taurid meteors tend to be larger than the norm, which means they are bright, many being fireballs. They also penetrate deeper into Earth’s atmosphere than many other shower meteors. For example, Orionids typically burn up at altitudes of 58 miles, whereas Taurids make it down to 42 miles. Some can get even lower — on the night of November 6, our meteor cameras tracked two 1-inch North Taurid meteors, both getting down to an altitude of of 36 miles.

3) Because they are big and possess a goodly amount of energy (imagine a 1 inch hunk of ice moving at 63,000 mph — 29 times faster than a bullet from an M-16 rifle), they produce decent quantities of light when they strike the surface of the Moon. This makes Taurid lunar impacts easy to see with Earth-based telescopes; in fact, the first lunar meteoroid impact observed by NASA was a Taurid back on November 7th of 2005, and we detected it with a 10″ telescope of the same type used by amateurs all over the world!

So when you are out at night this month, look up and watch for the occasional fireball – it’ll probably be a Taurid!

P.S. Check out the last couple weeks of meteors seen on fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov and you will notice there are several fireballs that are associated with the Northern or Southern Taurids (NTA or STA). Don’t even have to go outside!

A bright Taurid streaks across the southern Tennessee sky in this image taken by a NASA meteor camera in the wee hours of November 7, 2011.



The same Taurid; the bright flare in the meteor about two-thirds of the way into the video is caused by the meteor breaking into smaller pieces. When this happens, energy is released, resulting in a flash of light.


This graphic shows the location of the first lunar meteoroid impact observed by NASA on November 7, 2005. Originating from Comet Encke, it was a Taurid meteoroid striking the Moon’s surface with a speed of about 63,000 mph. The sequence of false color images at the lower left shows the impact flash as it evolved over consecutive video frames (1/30th second intervals).