There are many meteor showers that occur over the course of a year, but the Taurids are a little bit different to most. It is commonly accepted that
meteor showers are caused when Earth's orbit takes us through the trail of dust which a comet leaves behind it, and as each particle enters our
atmosphere it crates the luminous phenomenon we call a meteor.
In the case of the Taurids, the particles (or meteoroids as they are known when they are still out in space) are believed to come from comet
2P/Encke. 2P/Encke is thought to have been part of a much larger "giant comet" that broke up 20-30K
The Taurid Complex
Unlike most other meteor showers, it's thought that amongst the mostly dust-sized meteoroids ejected by the parent comet 2P/Encke, there are also
larger chunks of comet, produced when the comet broke up. This is the Taurid Complex - an orbiting cloud of dust, with a patchy "core" of larger
On the other hand, while the orbits of some particles are quite dispersed, it is still likely that the Taurid stream has a narrow and dense core
consisting of particles concentrated near the orbit of the stream's parent object, which is presumably related to Comet 2P/Encke. As the orbits of
the material constituting this narrow, dense core have been subject to perturbations over thousands of years, it may be inferred that intense
bombardment episodes have resulted at epochs when the material reaches Earth intersection. Dynamical calculations show that, as a Taurid-like orbit
precesses, the northern daytime intersection occurs just a little (a few centuries) before the southern nighttime one, and the southern daytime one
just before the northern nighttime one. That is, the four intersections occur in two pairs, and the influx of material to Earth is enhanced during
epochs lasting a few centuries and spaced by a few millennia. The term "coherent catastrophism" has been used by astronomers at Armagh and elsewhere
to describe the idea that there are strong patterns in the influx of extraterrestrial material to Earth.
Taurid "swarm years"
During swarm years, Earth's orbit takes it closer to the core where large meteoroids are thought to reside. Last year was such a year, but this year
is supposed to be a normal year.
Recent studies have shown that the Southern branch of the Taurid meteor complex is active as early as September 07, according to Robert Lunsford of
the AMS, so the shower has been underway for some time now.
The Southern branch peaks Oct. 30-Nov. 7, and the Northern branch peaks Nov. 4-7.
Because it's such an old and "fragmented" shower and the cometary debris is so widely spread, the shower peak is spread out over a few days, so if
you go out and spend some time looking once it's dark around the start of November, you'll see some actual Taurid meteors for yourself. Perhaps even
a bright fireball or two if you watch for long enough.
They are very distinctive, since they all have very low entry velocities compared to other meteor showers, and the meteors are often pure white
(although they can also show other colors too). As a bonus, the best time to observe them is just after midnight local time wherever you are, unlike
the better known showers like the Leonids, Perseids and Geminids which are most active just before dawn. Taurid meteors can be seen throughout the
night, from the moment the light starts to fade till the first light of dawn.
The one downside, is that rates are usually quite low. You can expect to see perhaps 8-10 every hour in a good year under ideal conditions during the
maximum nights. Realistically, expect to only see perhaps 4-5 per hour during peak. However, despite the low numbers, individual meteors can be
spectacular, and more than make up for the lack in quantity! Just to prove it, here is footage of
one from NASA's 2001 Leonid MAC mission.
Please keep in mind that other showers are also active at this time of year, and sporadic
meteor rates during the early morning hours in the Northern hemisphere are close to their maximum at this time of year, so not every meteor you see if
you go out and observe for a while will be a Taurid meteor shower member.
You can usualy tell if it's a shower member since meteors belonging to the same shower will always appear to travel away from the constellation the
shower is named after, in this case Taurus. So if you can project the path of the meteor backwards in your head, and it points directly back to
Taurus, the meteor is likely to be a Taurid.
The "point" (it's actually a small area of sky rather than a point) in Taurus where meteors appear to radiate from, is actually known as the
"shower radiant". This effect is actually caused because meteors belonging to the same shower are all traveling in the same direction, or parallel
to each other. Click here for an explanation of what a radiant is. (Scroll down
about half way to where it says "What is a Radiant ?")
This great video covers almost everything, but I would argue on a few points that were mentioned:
1. It's usually better to be totally flat when observing meteors since you can catch meteors close to any horizon with your peripheral vision when
facing directly upwards.
2. If you live in a warm/tropical climate, you might get away with a blanket (or even less) to keep you warm, but I'd advise putting on multiple
layers of warm cloths, and jumping into a sleeping bag if you want to observe for any length of time if you live away from the equator. If you are too
warm (unlikely in most cases) then you can always remove a layer of cloths or two.
3. The camera exposure times he mentioned could be at the upper end of the scale if you have any light pollution at you're site and/or depending on
your equipment/settings/how you want your photo to appear. It's worth experimenting before hand, but if you are using fast lenses/high ISOs (which
you should be if you want to catch any meteors, although you may get lucky and catch a bright meteor anyway), exposures can be as short as 5 or 10
seconds. See links below for more info.
As you say, they can be bright, so it's not always necessary to find light-pollution free skies in order to see them, but as with all showers it does
help, and you will nearly always see allot more.
I also feel your pain, as I also live somewhere that is very light polluted. It doesn't deter me from observing from here though, when I can't get
out of town, although I'd much prefer to be somewhere remote.
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