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 Orionid is captured on the peak night of the shower by a NASA all sky meteor camera in western North Carolina.
An Orionid cuts across Orion’s shoulders in this video recorded by a NASA wide field meteor camera at Marshall Space Flight Center. The 3 stars of Orion’s belt are clearly visible in the lower left corner of the image.
An Orionid heads south towards Orion’s belt in this video recorded by a NASA wide field meteor camera at Marshall Space Flight Center.
Orionid meteors appear every year around this time when Earth travels through an area of space littered with debris from Halley’s Comet. This year the peak will occur on the night of Wednesday, Oct. 21 into the morning of Thursday, Oct. 22.
“The Orionids will probably show weak activity this year,” says Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environments Office . “Bits of comet dust hitting the atmosphere will probably give us about a dozen meteors per hour.”
The best time to look for Orionid meteors is just before sunrise on Thursday, October 22nd, when Earth encounters the densest part of Halley’s debris stream.
Observing is easy: Wake up a few hours before dawn, go outside and look up. No telescope is necessary to see Orionids shooting across the sky. Viewing conditions are favorable this year, as the light from the gibbous Moon should set by 2 a.m. EDT time, permitting good viewing just before dawn when the rates will be at their highest.
A live stream of the night sky from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. will be available via Ustream beginning October 21, at 10 p.m. EDT. The live feed is an alternative for stargazers experiencing bad weather or light-polluted night skies. If the weather in Huntsville is clear, Orionids may be seen in the feed as early as 11:30 p.m. EDT, though the hours before dawn should show the most Orionid activity.
The display will be framed by some of the prettiest stars in the night sky. In addition to Orionids, you’ll see the Dog Star Sirius, bright winter constellations such as Orion, Gemini, and Taurus, and the planets Jupiter and Venus. Even if the shower is a dud, the rest of the sky is dynamite.
Set your alarm, brew some hot chocolate and enjoy the show!
The Draconids are an “occasional” shower – they are either in outburst, with a fair number of meteors, or are so few the casual observer would not notice them. Rates this year are expected to be about 10 per hour on the night of October 8 into the early morning of the 9th, most of them faint. The moon phase is favorable for the Draconid peak, so a sharp eyed observer may be able to spot a few during the course of the evening. The faintness of the Draconids is due in part to the fact that they are very slow for meteors, about 40,000 mph. As a consequence, it takes a larger Draconid to produce enough light to be really noticable (the brightness of a meteor is related to both its size and speed), and there are few of those unless the shower is in outburst, which is forecast to happen in 2018.
The next meteor shower is the Orionids on the night of October 21 into the morning of the 22. Rates are predicted to be about 20 per hour, and the gibbous Moon should set by 1 AM, permitting good viewing just before dawn when the rates will be at their highest