Astronomy: April 2015 Lyrid Meteor Shower – Where to Watch

The Lyrids Meteor Shower will peak on 22 April.  Photo: NASA

The Lyrids Meteor Shower will peak on 22 April.
Photo: NASA

The night sky will light up with a brilliant display of shooting stars over the next few days, as the annual Lyrid meteor shower makes its appearance for 2015.

Considered the oldest-known meteor shower, the Lyrids will peak on 22 and 23 April, with stargazers able to spot between 10 to 20 meteors per hour.

Typically the first good meteor shower of the year, the Lyrids are visible from most parts of the world, although the timing this year may favor Europe. According to the Slooh Community Observatory, which will host a live stream of the event on Wednesday, 22 April 2015, it is set to be a good year for the Lyrids because the moon will be a slender waxing crescent and will not obscure the view of the meteor shower.

The Lyrids

The April Lyrids have been observed for the past 2,600 years. They are the strongest annual shower of meteors from debris of a long-period comet, mainly because as far as other intermediate long-period comets go (between 200 and 10,000 years), this one has a relatively short orbital period of about 415 years.

The source of the shower is particles of dust shed by the long-period comet Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. As the comet sheds debris, the fragments of rock and dust strike the Earth’s upper atmosphere at around 110,000 miles per hour, vaporizing the debris and creating streaks of light. Sometimes, Earth may pass through a thick clump of comet debris, meaning more meteors will be visible.

Lyrid “fireballs” are created when brighter meteors cast shadows for a split second, leaving behind smoky debris. The radiant of the shower is located in the constellation Lyra, near the brightest star of the constellation, Alpha Lyrae, or Vega. The Lyrids can appear anywhere in the sky.

Meteors occur when comet debris enters the earth's atmosphere. Photo: NASA

Meteors occur when comet debris enters the earth’s atmosphere.
Photo: NASA

Shooting stars and their glowing trail

Shooting stars are not actually stars but fast-moving fragments of rock and debris left behind by a comet, and as the Earth moves around the sun, some of these pieces are pulled toward Earth by gravity. Around a quarter of the meteors produced during the shower will leave behind an ionised gas trail that glows for just a few seconds.

When a meteor enters Earth’s atmosphere it is moving so fast that its atoms collide with air molecules and electrons are ‘knocked’ loose – creating free electrons and positively charged ions. As the shooting star passes, the negatively charged free electrons are attracted to the positively charged ions and combine with them. When this happens energy is released in the form of light, creating the glowing trail behind shooting stars.

It is important to find somewhere will as little light pollution as possible and remember to wrap up warmly. You can also watch the event in the comfort of your own home, via the Slooh Community Observatory.

Below are various dark sky reserves and viewing areas popular with UK & US astronomers. You can find others using the Dark Sky Discovery website.

Watch the meteor in the UK:

London: The WaterWorks Nature Reserve, between Clapton and Leyton Midland Road rail station.

Manchester: Heaton Park is the largest municipal park in the city and contains an astronomy club.

Birmingham: Warley Woods is accessible by bus or car from the city. Those driving should take the A456 Hagley Road westbound from the centre.

Newcastle: Northumberland National Park is an internationally designated Dark Sky Park.

Cardiff: Brecon Beacons is a fantastic area for stargazing as it offers some of the darkest skies in the UK.

Belfast: Oxford Island National Nature Reserve is around 25 miles from the city, located on the shores of Lough Neagh.

Edinburgh: The Royal Observatory, in the Hermitage of Braid, is a good place to try and spot a shooting star.

Watch the meteor shower in the US

Pennsylvania: Cherry Springs State Park is a gold-certified International Dark Sky Park, one of only a handful in the US. There is a night sky viewing area, located north of Route 44, which is always open.

New York: The Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side is the home of the Amateur Astronomers Association on Friday evenings.

California: Death Valley National Park is also a gold-certified International Dark Sky Park, with very little artificial light within its 3.4 million acres. Another good location, the Templin Highway in Angeles National Forest, is a 45 minute drive from downtown LA.

Philadelphia: The Tuckahoe State Park is two hours out of the city and is a good place to stargaze.

Arizona: The Kitt Peak National Observatory, near Tucson, is home to the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes. The clear, dark skies of the Sonoran desert are a famous favourite for astronomers.

Utah: Bryce canyon has very little light pollution. Its skies are best seen during new moons, when the Milky Way and over 7,000 stars can be seen with the naked eye.

Illinois: The Hickory Knolls Discovery Center in St Charles is a nature conservatory and a Dark Sky Park.

New Mexico: Chaco Culture National Historical Park has more than 4,000 prehistoric archaeological sites and is a great location to try and spot the Lyrids.

Texas: The Big Bend National Park in west Texas has gone to some lengths to keep its International Dark Sky status, including by changing the lighting to shielded LEDs.

Alaska: The Denali National Park and Preserve has minimal light pollution and high altitudes, and also offers incredible views of the Aurora Borealis.

Happy viewing!

Crash

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Saturday Reader: Crash’s 2015 Astro-Calendar

astro calendar

Mark your calendar, wake the kids, phone the neighbors!  From eclipses to meteor showers, from planets and stars to galaxies & full moons – it’s all here.

January:
Bundle up and keep your eyes peeled on the evenings of January 3rd and 4th to catch the Quadrantids meteor shower. While the nearly Full Moon will unfortunately outshine many of the Quadrantids this year, there will still be opportunities to see brighter meteors streak across the night sky. Look for meteors appearing to radiate from the constellation Boötes.

On the night of January 23rd, train your telescope on Jupiter from 7pm PST to about half-past 11pm PST to witness a rare triple Galilean moon and shadow transit. The shadows of Galilean moons Callisto, Io and Europa will cross the face of Jupiter, followed by the moons themselves, all in one night!

February:
Get ready for great views of giant Jupiter this month as the gas giant planet will be at opposition on the evening of February 6th – the point in its orbit when it appears opposite the Sun from Earth. The second month of 2015 continues to offer good views of the winter Milky Way, especially during the evening of February 18th, when the New Moon promises dark skies.

Catch an early evening conjunction of the planets Venus and Mars on February 22, when our closest neighboring planets will appear to be just a half-degree apart in the evening sky.

March:
Some of the best galaxies to see are spread across the night skies of March from Ursa Major to Virgo. Take advantage of the New Moon on March 20th and set sail for these island universes with a big telescope! Grab a pair of 50mm or larger binoculars in March for great views of the Pleiades cluster (M45), the Beehive cluster (M44), and the must-see Double Cluster in Perseus. These sparkling sky gems are perfect fare for big astronomy binoculars and telescopes too.

April:
Skygazers get a treat this month in the form of a Total Lunar Eclipse on the evening of April 4th. You won’t want to miss the show as the Full Moon gradually becomes darkened by the Earth’s shadow and turn a reddish orange color. This Total Lunar Eclipse will be visible throughout most of North and South America, eastern Asia and Australia.

Don’t miss the Lyrids meteor shower which peaks during April 22nd and 23rd. Scan the skies near the constellation Lyra after midnight on the 22nd for your best chance to see meteors.

May:
Grab a comfortable blanket or lounge chair and catch the Eta Aquarids meteor shower which peaks on the evening of May 5th and the early morning of May 6th. Meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius.

May skies present great viewing opportunities for many globular star clusters, including M3 in the constellation Boötes, the Great Cluster M13 in the keystone asertism of Hercules, M5 in Serpens, M92 in the northern section of Hercules.

The best time of the year to observe Saturn and its spectacular rings is the night of May 22nd, when the gas giant planet reaches opposition. 2015 will be a great year to observe and photograph Saturn because its rings will be at nearly maximum tilt from our vantage point.

June:
Summer stargazing season kicks off in June with great opportunities to see a host of globular and open star clusters, emission nebulas, and more. Grab a pair of big binoculars or a wide-field telescope and scan the summer Milky Way for great views.

Around 10pm in mid-June, two face-on spiral galaxies M51 and M101 will both be well-paced in the night sky for observation and astrophotography. While you can see these galaxies from a dark sky site with a humble 60mm refractor, bigger telescopes will reveal much more detail. Use a 10″ or larger reflector to see the spiral arms of M51.

July:
With constellation Hercules almost directly overhead and Scorpius to the south, there’s plenty to explore in July skies as summer continues.

On the night of July 1st, get outside in the early evening to catch a close conjunction between bright planet Venus and giant Jupiter. The two planets will appear just 24 arcminutes away from one another in a very pretty pairing. July winds down with the Delta Aquarids meteor shower. For the best chance to see meteors, get outside the night of July 28th and look towards the constellation Aquarius.

August:
Get outside during the evening of August 6th to see a close conjunction between the planets Mercury and Jupiter, which will appear just 35 arcminutes away from one another.

Use 50mm or larger binoculars and/or a telescope with a low-power eyepiece to explore the summer Milky Way in August for nice views of various star clusters, galaxies, and cloudy nebulas.

Check out the skies after dark on August 12th and in the early morning hours of August 13th to see meteors from the Perseids shower radiating from the constellation Perseus. This year, the thin crescent Moon during the Perseids will allow summer stargazers to see plenty of beautiful meteors streak across the night sky.

September:
The fall stargazing season begins with wonderfully placed spiral galaxies M31 (Andromeda Galaxy), M33 (Triangulum Galaxy), and M74 in Pisces. Use a big telescope to see these glittering island universes.

Three popular globular star clusters line up almost directly north-south in September skies. From a dark sky site, check out views M15 in Pegasus, M2 in Aquarius, and M30 in Capricornus.

The end of September treats us to a Total Lunar Eclipse on the evening of the 28th. Get outside to see the Moon become a deep red color as it becomes darkened by Earth’s shadow. This Total Lunar Eclipse will be visible from most of North and South America, Europe, western Asia and Africa.

October:
Sit back and relax in your favorite backyard chair to watch the Orionid meteor shower, which peaks on the night of October 21st into the morning of October 22nd. The Orionids shower is notoriously irregular, so keep an eye out for meteors on any night from October 20th through the 24th also.

Set your alarm to get up early on October 28th, to catch a glimpse of a rare triple-conjunction between the planets Venus, Mars and Jupiter before sunrise. These three planets will form a 1-degree triangle in the pre-dawn skies of the 28th.

November:
Bundle up for bright winter skies! See our namesake constellation Orion arch its way across the sky in November along with lots of bright star clusters to explore with big astronomy binoculars and telescopes.

Get outside on the evenings of November 17th and 18th to see the Leonids meteor shower as meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Leo.

High in the northern skies of November, between the constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia, use a pair of big binoculars or a wide-field telescope to seek out the sparkling Double Cluster in Perseus – two open star clusters NGC 884 and NGC 889 side by side.

December:
Don’t miss the Geminids meteor shower which peaks during December 13th and 14th. Even though the peak is on the 13th and 14th, this popular shower will likely produce worthwhile meteors from the 6th through the 19th. Look for meteors to emanate from the constellation Gemini and the surrounding area.

The New Moon of December 11th will improve your chances of seeing the Geminids shower, as well provide optimal conditions to go after deep space telescope fare including the open cluster Pleiades (M42), the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and the many gems within our namesake constellation Orion, including M42 the Orion Nebula and the elusive Horsehead Nebula located near Alnitak – the easternmost star of Orion’s easily recognizable belt.

A ghostly full moon rises over the Anasazi ruins known as Wukoki in Wupatki National Monument, Arizona. Photo appears courtesy of NatGeo and copyright 2008 David Edwards.

A ghostly full moon rises over the Anasazi ruins known as Wukoki in Wupatki National Monument, Arizona.
Photo appears courtesy of NatGeo and copyright 2008 David Edwards.

Full Moons:  Names & Meanings

Unlike hurricanes and winter storms, the names of each full moon are a constant – they never change.  Sure, we sometimes add names but for the most part their nameshave remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

One of the most dramatic sights in the night sky—and inspiration for poets, artists, and lovers for millennia—full moons captivate us like nothing else.

Every month Earth’s moon goes through its phases, waning and waxing in its constant transformation from new moon to full moon and back again. Full moons occur every 29.5 days or so as the moon moves to the side of Earth directly opposite the sun, reflecting the sun’s rays off its full face and appearing as a brilliant, perfectly circular disk.

For millennia, humans have used the movement of the moon to keep track of the passing year and set schedules for hunting, planting, and harvesting. Ancient cultures the world over have given these full moons names based on the behavior of the plants, animals, or weather during that month.

January: Wolf Moon
Native Americans and medieval Europeans named January’s full moon after the howling of hungry wolves lamenting the midwinter paucity of food. Other names for this month’s full moon include old moon and ice moon.

February: Snow Moon
The typically cold, snowy weather of February in North America earned its full moon the name snow moon. Other common names include storm moon and hunger moon.

March: Worm Moon
Native Americans called this last full moon of winter the worm moon after the worm trails that would appear in the newly thawed ground. Other names include chaste moon, death moon, crust moon (a reference to snow that would become crusty as it thawed during the day and froze at night), and sap moon, after the tapping of the maple trees.

April: Pink Moon
Northern Native Americans call April’s full moon the pink moon after a species of early blooming wildflower. In other cultures, this moon is called the sprouting grass moon, the egg moon, and the fish moon.

May: Flower Moon
May’s abundant blooms give its full moon the name flower moon in many cultures. Other names include the hare moon, the corn planting moon, and the milk moon.

June: Strawberry Moon
In North America, the harvesting of strawberries in June gives that month’s full moon its name. Europeans have dubbed it the rose moon, while other cultures named it the hot moon for the beginning of the summer heat.

July: Buck Moon
Male deer, which shed their antlers every year, begin to regrow them in July, hence the Native American name for July’s full moon. Other names include thunder moon, for the month’s many summer storms, and hay moon, after the July hay harvest.

August: Sturgeon Moon
North American fishing tribes called August’s full moon the sturgeon moon since the species was abundant during this month. It’s also been called the green corn moon, the grain moon, and the red moon for the reddish hue it often takes on in the summer haze.

September: Harvest Moon
The most familiar named moon, September’s harvest moon refers to the time of year after the autumn equinox when crops are gathered. It also refers to the moon’s particularly bright appearance and early rise, which lets farmers continue harvesting into the night. Other names include the corn moon and the barley moon.

October: Hunter’s Moon
The first moon after the harvest moon is the hunter’s moon, so named as the preferred month to hunt summer-fattened deer and fox unable to hide in now bare fields. Like the harvest moon, the hunter’s moon is also particularly bright and long in the sky, giving hunters the opportunity to stalk prey at night. Other names include the travel moon and the dying grass moon.

November: Beaver Moon
There is disagreement over the origin of November’s beaver moon name. Some say it comes from Native Americans setting beaver traps during this month, while others say the name comes from the heavy activity of beavers building their winter dams. Another name is the frost moon.

December: Cold Moon
The coming of winter earned December’s full moon the name cold moon. Other names include the long night moon and the oak moon.

The Blue Moon
Each year, the moon completes its final cycle about 11 days before the Earth finishes its orbit around the sun. These days add up, and every two and a half years or so, there is an extra full moon, called a blue moon. The origin of the term is uncertain, and its precise definition has changed over the years. The term is commonly used today to describe the second full moon of a calendar month, but it was originally the name given to the third full moon of a season containing four full moons.

Many thanks to the Astronomy Departments of Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia and Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona. Additional thanks to the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland and Fernbank Museum of Natural History/Fernbank Science Center, Decatur, Georgia.

Happy viewing and have a great 2015!

Crash

New Meteor Shower on May 23 and 24

meteor1

Is Comet 209P/LINEAR visible? You bet. It’s running through the realms of Ursa Major and headed toward Leo, and it’s about to do something spectacular!

On Thursday, May 29th, the icy traveler will pass just 5 million miles from Earth – one of the closest comet approaches in history. Even though it may reach an estimated magnitude 10 and be observable with mid-sized telescopes, this little comet is not going to be an easy target. Why? Experts have predicted it will be covering about a half degree of sky an hour!

But that’s not all it has to offer…

On May 23-24, just 5 days before it buzzes by us, we may encounter a stream of cometary debris left behind by Comet 209P/LINEAR in the 1800s. What will happen could be a shining meteor shower with a possibility of anywhere from a handful to thousands of “shooting stars” visible.

According to the International Meteor Organization: “Much is unknown about this comet, including its dust productivity and even its precise orbit. Consequently, while tentative proposals have been made that zenith hourly rates (ZHRs) could reach 100+ at best, perhaps up to storm proportions, based purely on the relative approach distances between the Earth and the computed dust trails, these are far from certain. The strongest activity could be short lived too, lasting perhaps between a few minutes to a fraction of an hour only. In addition, the number of dust trails involved means there may be more than one peak, and that others could happen outside the “key hour” period, so observers at suitable locations are urged to be vigilant for as long as possible to either side of the predicted event to record whatever takes place. Remember, there are no guarantees in meteor astronomy!”

So, do you want to know when and where to watch? The peak night of the shower is predicted for May 23-24, 2014. Models suggest that the best viewing hours are between 6 and 8 UTC on May 24. That is between 2 and 4 a.m., EDT.

Image courtesy of JPL/NASA

Image courtesy of JPL/NASA

According to EarthSky.org: “Because of the time predicted for the meteor display, observers in southern Canada and the continental U.S. are especially well positioned to see the meteors in the early morning hours of May 24 (or late at night on May 23). Will the predictions hold true? They are not always 100% reliable, which is why, no matter where you are on Earth, this shower is worth a try.”

Backyard observers won’t be the only ones watching. Notable experts such as the head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Dr. Bill Cooke plan on viewing firsthand. “There could be a new meteor shower, and I want to see it with my own eyes,” says Cooke. “We expect these meteors to radiate from a point in Camelopardalis, also known as ‘the giraffe’, a faint constellation near the North Star,” he continues. “It will be up all night long for anyone who wishes to watch throughout the night.”

So just how many meteors might you expect to see? One thing in everyone’s favor is that the Moon is nearing its New phase, and won’t pose much of a light pollution problem. However, there are no guarantees that the new May Camelopardalid Meteor Shower will be prolific – it might just fizzle out.

When meteor experts Esko Lyytinen of Finland and Peter Jenniskens at NASA Ames Research Center announced that Earth was due for an encounter with debris from Comet 209P/LINEAR, they could only present modeling for the debris trail and not a 100% accurate representation of how much material the comet may have shed during that particular trip around the Sun. If the comet shed a huge amount of dust, it may be a 1,000 per hour shower, but it’s more likely you’ll just catch a bright streak every few minutes. Either way, it will be a grand time and another astronomy “first” for your observing records!

Also see: New Meteor Shower Predicted to be a Meteor Storm

Crash

New Meteor Shower Predicted to be a Meteor Storm

Meteors

Coming to a circumpolar constellation near you: An all-new, never-before-seen, awkwardly named meteor shower that just might knock your astronomical socks off.

It’s called the Camelopardalid meteor shower, and unlike annual showers such as the Perseids and Leonids that have been occurring for hundreds or thousands of years, it will occur for the first time the night of May 23 and early morning of May 24.

A meteor shower happens when the Earth passes through debris left in space by a comet (the Perseids, for example, are debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle); the debris, little chunks of rock and other material, burns up in the atmosphere to form what some people call shooting or falling stars.

The Camelopardalids will be debris from Comet 209P/LINEAR, a very dim comet that orbits the sun every five years. The comet was discovered in 2004 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project, a partnership of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, NASA and the U.S. Air Force.

meteors2

Sky watchers in North America may see a brand new meteor shower the night of May 23 and early morning of May 24. This will be the first time the Earth has passed through debris left by Comet 209P/LINEAR.

But while the Earth has been passing through Swift-Tuttle debris to create the Perseids for thousands of years (the first written account of the shower was in 36 A.D.), this will be the first time the Earth has passed through Comet 209P/LINEAR’s leftovers.

Meteor showers vary in intensity: Some produce more meteors than others, and some years a particular meteor shower is better than other years. It all depends on how much debris the Earth passes through, and some astronomers are predicting that all of Comet 209P/LINEAR’s debris trails from 1803 through 1924 will intersect Earth’s orbit, so the Camelopardalid meteor shower will be a meteor storm producing hundreds of meteors per hour.

So, how good will it be?

“That’s always a good question, more so with this meteor shower because it’s the first time we’re seeing it,” said Rich Talcott, senior editor of Astronomy magazine. “Over the past 15 or 20 years, astronomers have done a very good job at figuring out, ‘OK, here’s where the debris streams will lie.’ I’m thinking the odds are pretty good we’ll get something nice May 24.”

Meteor showers are named for the constellation from which the meteors seem to radiate. That point is known as the radiant, and radiant for the Camelopardalids will be the constellation Camelopardalis (the giraffe).

Camelopardalis is a circumpolar constellation, which means that, rather than moving from east to west across the night sky, it goes around Polaris, the North Star, so it’s up all night. It’s also easy to find because it’s close to the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, two easily recognizable constellations. The meteor shower will be easier to view in the South, says Carol Stewart, astronomer at the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium in Fort Myers, Fla.

“In Southwest Florida, we have an advantage over Northern latitudes because the meteors will come in at us from a lower altitude,” she said. “Those are called ‘Earth-grazers,’ and they’re longer-lasting and run farther across the sky.”

Aside from clouds, a meteor watcher’s worst enemy is a bright moon, which can wash out all but the brightest meteors.

On the night of May 23, however, the moon is not present, and it doesn’t rise until 3:41 a.m. May 24. When it does rise, it will be a waning crescent, so it won’t affect the meteor shower. Astronomers predict peak activity for the shower will be from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. May 24, but Stewart will be looking at a wider window.

“They could start as soon as it gets dark the night of the 23rd,” she said. “I’m going to go out and check every hour. We don’t know because this is the first time, and I don’t want to miss it.”

Crash

Celestial Wonders: November 8–17, 2013

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Watch two different meteor showers in the next 10 days & more with this inside scoop of celestial goings-on

Unlike Halley's Comet, Comet ISON (C/2012 S1), shown here, will not be back in the inner solar system anytime soon, so catch a glimpse while you can. Photo: Gemini Observatory

Unlike Halley’s Comet, Comet ISON (C/2012 S1), shown here, will not be back in the inner solar system anytime soon, so catch a glimpse while you can.
Photo: Gemini Observatory

Friday, November 8
With all the frenzy currently swirling about Comet ISON, it’s time to remember the man who unraveled much of the mystery of cometary orbits. On this date in 1656, British astronomer Edmond Halley was born. In a paper published in 1705, he stated that the comet sightings of 1456, 1531, 1607, and 1682 were of the same comet. He then predicted this object would return in 1758. When it did, it became the first periodic comet. Astronomers of that time honored the man who figured out its orbit by calling it Halley’s Comet.

Saturday, November 9
American astronomer Carl Sagan was born on this date in 1934. He was a professor at Cornell University, the author of several books, and an advisor to NASA. His most lasting legacy, however, is the award-winning television series he co-wrote and narrated, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. It debuted in 1980.

Sunday, November 10
The Moon reaches First Quarter at 12:57 a.m. EST. That also will be about the local time in the Eastern Time zone when the half-lit orb rises in the southeast. The Moon now lies in the constellation Aquarius the Water-bearer. Look 7° northeast of our satellite to find Sadalsuud, Aquarius’ brightest star. It shines at magnitude 2.9. Although early astronomers labeled it Beta (β) Aquarii — “Beta” usually signifying a constellation’s second-brightest star — Sadalsuud shines 0.05 magnitude brighter than Sadalmelik, Aquarius’ Alpha (α) star.

Monday, November 11
Look for Mars’ ruddy glow as it clears the eastern horizon before 1:30 a.m. local time. The Red Planet shines at magnitude 1.4, not quite 3° east-southeast of magnitude 4.1 Sigma (σ) Leonis. It will pass close to Sigma around 10 p.m. EST on the night of the 16th — so close that neither binoculars nor even low-power telescope/eyepiece combinations will be able to separate the two objects. Checking out the planet and star from a few hours before to a few hours after will let you see planetary motion occur in real time.

The Northern Taurid meteor shower will produce 15 streaks per hour this week. They will resemble those shown here, from the 2013 Perseid meteor shower.

The Northern Taurid meteor shower will produce 15 streaks per hour this week. They will resemble those shown here, from the 2013 Perseid meteor shower.

Tuesday, November 12
The Northern Taurid meteor shower peaks around 5 a.m. EST. This lesser-known shower lasts for about two weeks, but generally puts on a reasonably good show. From a dark site, an observer can expect to see up to 15 Northern Taurid meteors per hour. Add to that the six sporadic meteors per hour you can see on average, and it looks like a great morning for shooting stars.

Wednesday, November 13
Venus spends this month among the background stars of Sagittarius the Archer. Tonight, the planet slides 3° south of globular star cluster M22. Binoculars will reveal this magnitude 5.2 deep-sky object if your observing site is sufficiently dark, but to see M22 in all its glory, point a telescope at it.

Find Jupiter and its moons late in the evening in the constellation Gemini the Twins.

Find Jupiter and its moons late in the evening in the constellation Gemini the Twins.

Thursday, November 14
The brightest late-evening planet is Jupiter. The giant world lies in front of the stars of the constellation Gemini the Twins this month. Jupiter rises in the northeast around 8 p.m. local time. Look roughly 7° north-northeast of the planet for Gemini’s brightest star, Pollux (Beta Geminorum). The Twins’ second-brightest star, Castor (Alpha Geminorum) lies 4.5° north-northwest of Pollux. Jupiter, blazing at magnitude –2.5, outshines magnitude 1.2 Pollux by 30 times and is 44 times more luminous than magnitude 1.6 Castor.

Friday, November 15
The variable star Algol in Perseus reaches minimum brightness at 4:21 a.m. EST. If you started to watch it late yesterday evening, you can see its brightness diminish by 70 percent (its magnitude drops from 2.1 to 3.4) over the course of about 5 hours. This eclipsing binary star runs through a cycle from minimum to maximum and back every 2.87 days. Algol passes nearly overhead around 11 p.m. local time and appears in the northwest when it hits minimum brightness.

Saturday, November 16
Look toward the southeast in late evening and you’ll see winter’s (and perhaps the entire sky’s) most recognizable constellation in all its glory. Orion the Hunter rises by 9 p.m. local time but becomes much more prominent a few hours later. The Hunter climbs highest in the south between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. local time. Note ruddy Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis), which marks the Hunter’s right shoulder, and blue-white Rigel (Beta Orionis), the star that represents his upraised left foot. These two stars offer a contrast in both color and temperature. Red stars like Betelgeuse are the coolest of all with surface temperatures around 3,000° Fahrenheit (1,650° Celsius). Blue stars like Rigel are the hottest. Its surface burns at 35,000° F (19,400° C).

The annual Leonid meteor shower will pepper the sky with bright streaks all week, but it should reach its peak the evening of November 17.

The annual Leonid meteor shower will pepper the sky with bright streaks all week, but it should reach its peak the evening of November 17.

Sunday, November 17
Full Moon occurs at 10:16 a.m. EST. Also, the annual Leonid meteor shower will pepper the sky with bright streaks all week, but it should reach its peak tonight into tomorrow morning. The shower typically produces 20 to 30 meteors per hour under a dark sky. Unfortunately, Full Moon also occurs today, so it will be in the sky all night. Still, some observers will want a look. The best time to observe will be in the few hours before dawn, when the Moon lies low in the west. Find a stand of trees, a building, or a vehicle that you can use to block the Moon’s light. But don’t use a telescope or binoculars. For a meteor shower, you want the widest field of view possible, and that happens when you use just your eyes.

Enjoy & happy viewing!!

Crash

Taurids Meteor Shower: November 4, 5

shower

The Taurids is a long-running minor meteor shower producing only about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is unusual in that it consists of two separate streams. The first is produced by dust grains from Asteroid 2004 TG10. The second stream is produced by debris left behind by Comet 2P Encke. The shower runs annually from September 7 to December 10. It peaks this year on the the night of November 4. This is an excellent year  because there will be no moonlight to spoil the show. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Taurus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

The expected peak will fall on the night of November 11-12 (late evening on Monday, November 11, until the wee morning hours on Tuesday, November 12). But by then, a larger and brighter waxing gibbous moon won’t set until a few hours after midnight. If you’re blessed with clear nights this weekend, take advantage of them because you’ll have more moon-free viewing time than early next week!

Although the North Taurid meteor shower is not expected to peak until early next week, the meteor rates may be comparable throughout the weekend. In a dark sky, you might see up to 10 meteors per hour. This shower favors the Northern Hemisphere, but no matter where you live worldwide, the best viewing hours are usually in the wee hours just after midnight.

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