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Attention skywatchers: Fireballs and meteor showers in November

Southern Taurid Fireball, public domain image via Flickr CC

The month of November has a lot to offer to skywatchers.

Taurid meteor photographed off Vancouver Photo Credit: James Younger

Taurid meteor photographed off Vancouver
Photo Credit: James Younger

The Taurid Meteor Shower ( named for the Taurus the Bull constellation from which it seems to emanate) will be putting on a display for much of the month. This celestial event occurs annually when the Earth passes through a stream  of tiny bits of dust and ice debris  left behind by Comet Encke in its orbit around the Sun. The meteors tend to be slow-moving, but sometimes very bright. The Taurid shower is known for producing “fireballs,” and there are already photos of some produced this year by the early month portion of this event.

Taurids: Where to look SkyChart Credit: EarthSky

Taurids: Where to look
SkyChart Credit: EarthSky

The “fireballs” are very bright meteors that, at their brightest, can light up the sky enough to be seen even in fairly strong moonlight. The Taurid, unlike other showers, is not known for producing huge quantities of meteors each hour, but the 2-10 per hour it produces at its peak can be spectacular. Also, the “peak” of the Taurid Shower actually lasts for about a week, this year being from dawn November 5th thru dawn November 12th.

The long peak gives us several opportunities to view when weather is an issue. In fact, you may want to “look up” most anytime you get a chance during the next few weeks. The Taurid field is quite large, and it takes the Earth several weeks to pass through, this year until December 2nd. The best time for viewing the Taurids may prove to be near the end of the shower’s peak during the new moon, when the sky is darker.

Generally, to see the maximum display, look to the sky around midnight, when the Taurus the Bull constellation is highest in the sky.

November 6-7 Dawn Sky

SkyChart credit: EarthSky

SkyChart credit: EarthSky

In the coming mornings – November 6 and 7, 2015, and the mornings before and after – the moon will be sweeping past the planets in the east before dawn. The moon will join the king planet Jupiter on the morning of November 6, and, on that day, the moon and Jupiter will be shining over another close-knit morning couple – Venus and Mars. The moon, Venus and Jupiter are the brightest objects in the sky, after the sun. They rank as the second-brightest, third-brightest and fourth-brightest celestial bodies, respectively. In the coming days, these brilliant worlds at morning dawn will be a glorious sight.

The Leonid Meteor Shower: Late night November 17 until dawn November 18, 2015

There will be another chance later this month to see bright streaks in the sky when the Leonid meteor shower also kicks in. The much stronger Leonid shower is expected to peak around Nov. 17.

Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion, dots a backwards question mark of stars known as the Sickle. If you trace all the Leonid meteors backward, they appear to radiate from this area of the sky. This year, in 2015, the planet Jupiter shines in eastern Leo, not far from the Lion’s Tail. SykChart Credit: EarthSky

Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion, dots a backwards question mark of stars known as the Sickle. If you trace all the Leonid meteors backward, they appear to radiate from this area of the sky. This year, in 2015, the planet Jupiter shines in eastern Leo, not far from the Lion’s Tail. SykChart Credit: EarthSky

The Leonid has produce some of the greatest meteor storms in history, the last in 1966, with thousands of meteors per minute over a span of 15 minutes, November 17, 1966. But for most years, the Leonid produces a maximum of perhaps 10-15 meteors per hour on a dark night. This year, there will be a waxing crescent moon that sets in the evening, so the sky should be dark enough for good viewing. Try after midnight until dawn, the time when viewing is usually best.

The best place to watch a meteor shower is always in the country. Just go far enough from town that glittering stars, the same stars drowned by city lights, begin to pop into view. City, state and national parks are often great places to watch meteor showers.

Get a picture you want to share with fellow skywatchers? Send it to news@nanewsweb.com.

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