Taurid meteors put on celestial fireworks show this month

Radiant for the Taurids meteor shower. AN graphic by Greg Smye-Rumsby.
Radiant for the Taurids meteor shower. AN graphic by Greg Smye-Rumsby.

The Taurids meteor shower is active throughout November with a double radiant and a double peak. Observers can usually expect around 10 meteors per hour from dark sky locations, but moonlight could wash out many in the first third of the month.

The Southern Taurids come first on the 5 November, the radiant lying in western Taurus about ten degrees south of the naked-eye open cluster the Pleiades (M45). The radiant culminates around 12.30am from the UK at a decent altitude, 54 degrees above the southern horizon. From New York the radiant culminates 10 degrees higher and 20 degrees higher from the most southerly states of America.

Strong moonlight will be a big problem this year, with a full moon on 6 November, next door in Aries. Observers in the UK will also have to contend with the smoke and fireworks of bonfire night. The tiny fragments burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere, debris from the periodic comet 2P/Encke, often produce bright events or fireballs, and so could punch through the hazy, smoky, moonlight skies. Taurids are also relatively slow meteors.

The Northern Taurids, which peak on the night of 12/13 November, are slightly richer than their southern counterpart with a ZHR (Zenithal Hourly Rate) closer to 15. ZHR rates assumes that the radiant is directly overhead and you have a dark, pristine sky. In reality these optimal conditions rarely occur and observable rates will be lower. The radiant lies eight degrees or so further north close to M45 again near Taurus‘ border with Aries and will culminate at midnight over 60 degrees up. Watches on this night should be more productive with a waning gibbous Moon a day or so short of last quarter over in the east in Cancer. Coincidentally, November is one of the best months for random shooting stars.

As with observing any meteor shower the best advice is not to stare at the actual radiant but at an altitude of 50 degrees (about the same altitude of the Pole Star from the UK) and 30-40 degrees to one side of the shower radiant (the width of a fist held at arm’s length is about ten degrees).

November nights can be very chilly so be well prepared, especially if you are travelling to a dark site to make your watch. Wrap up well in layers of warm, dry clothing and keeping hands, feet and head warm is essential! Perhaps bring a flask of tea and a snack or two to sustain you if fatigue sets in. Try to find an observing spot where lights are not in your direct vision as it’s vital to try to preserve your dark adaption to enable the fainter meteors to be seen.


Inside the magazine

You can read more about this month’s meteor showers in the November issue of Astronomy Now as part of our complete guide to the night sky. Never miss an issue by subscribing to the UK’s longest running astronomy magazine.