The Taurid Meteors

Hey, sky fans. Happy Friday! I hope you’ve had a good week, and congrats, especially if you’re a Cubs fan! Congrats to you, too, Indians’ fans; your team did something great, too. It’s been busy around here, and I’ve been a bit under the weather, so I hope you’ve managed, somehow, to survive without me as much. As we come up on the first weekend of November, remember, here in the US, at least, late tomorrow night-slash-early Sunday morning (it’s actually 2:00 A.M. Sunday, but you might have a more exciting life than I do), it’s time for Daylight Saving Time to end. Remember to set your clocks back an hour, and to be cranky about the sleep you’ll be losing. It’s also a good time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. Also, don’t forget to flip the D to an S when you write times; your photography opening next week is at 8:00 MST.

This is also the last weekend before the US’s election. I’m not going to talk about politics here, that’s one promise I’ll make to all of you, but these last few weeks have been really tough. I’ve started to take extra comfort in the sky, an extra few minutes taking out the trash. An extra few minutes watching the Moon, and wondering what’s in that extra-empty-looking patch of sky that I can’t see. It’s been quiet, calming, and reliable.

If you’re looking for a little help, too. Tonight November 4 and tomorrow night, the 5th, are a great time to spend some time outside. It’s the peak of this year’s Taurid meteor shower here in the northern hemisphere, one of my favorite showers of them all. The Taurids, which happen each year when the Earth catches up with a patch of leftover crud from Comet Enke, are an unusual shower. Meteor showers happen when small particles smack into the Earth’s atmosphere at a very high speed and burn up. These particles tend to be small, about the size of grains of sand.

Taurids, though, tend to be quite a bit bigger, the size of pebbles or small rocks. There are fewer of them than in other showers, only around 5 or 10 per hour instead of over 100,  but since they’re bigger, they’re brighter, and they take more time to burn up. It’s a more elegantly spectacular. Also, the Taurids and the Earth kind of catches up with each other from behind, so they’re moving slower relative to the Earth, which helps them seem to move more slowly across the sky, than other showers’ meteors.

Last year, I was out watching the skies when a very bright one made its way across the sky. It was there long enough that I was able to turn to my wife and say “Hey, look over there,” before it vanished. It was so incredible that we got the kids out of bed to have a look, and we were lucky enough to see one or two more.

Like other showers, the Taurids are named for the constellation from which most of the meteors appear to… shower from. This is called the shower’s radiant. The Orionids’s radiant is Orion; the Geminids’ is Gemini, and, have a guess… right the Taurids’ is Taurus, the bull, which is just starting to make its way back into the skies these days. You don’t need to look straight at Taurus to see meteors. The can come from any part of the sky. In fact, I was looking further to the south when I saw the one I mentioned a minute ago.

So, if you want to have a look, find someone a friend or your family, and head outside when it’s good and dark; after the Moon’s finished for the night. The Moon sets around 9:00 P.M. tonight, where I am.  Wear some clothes that are warm enough, and grab a chair, a picnic blanket or just patch of sidewalk, tune out the news, and look up. Taurus is pretty easy to find rising into the eastern skies by mid-evening, and getting higher and higher toward the south as the night goes on. You can find it by looking for the tiny-dipper looking Pleiades cluster, the bright star Aldebaran, and the V-shaped Hyades cluster.

Taurus (from Stellarium)
Taurus (from Stellarium)

Maybe you’ll see something, maybe you won’t, but worse comes to worst, you’ll spend sometime with someone you love and the sky. If you can’t make it outside this weekend, that’s okay. The Taurids will still be doing their thing clear through the end of the November, when the Earth finally makes its way out of the way of all those Enke crumbs. Also, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, the peak will be next weekend, the 11th and 12th.

This is a naked eye thing. Just sit back and relax. If you have a pair of binoculars, and you want to look at the Moon before it sets, at the Pleiades, or any other of the wonderful things that are around, though, that’s a great idea.

I probably won’t be back in touch for a few days, so have a great weekend, please vote and vote well. This’ll all be over before we know it. Clear skies everyone!

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