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Northern Taurids meteor shower peaks on November 12, 2012

The Northern part of the Taurid meteor shower peaks on the night of November 12/13. This year presents a good seeing opportunity, as the Moon does not interfere, offering a nice chance to glimpse a few meteors from this very old stream.

The Taurids have long been identified as an old meteor stream, with the first recorded observations made as far back as 1869. Although frequently seen during the remainder of the 19th century, it was not until 1918 that it was realised that a new meteor shower had been found. The Taurids are a little unusual in that they now have two separate shower radians caused by the gravitational effect of the planets, especially Jupiter. Although originating from the same parent comet, overtime they have spread out to form two individual meteor showers, now known as the Northern Taurids (NTA) and the Southern Taurids (STA). Both Taurids have low zenithal hourly rates (ZHR), with the Southern Taurids peaking in October and the Northern Taurids in November. Despite the low numbers it's worth looking out for them as they often produce spectacular fireballs! In fact, when bright Taurids come, authorities are usually in for a busy night with a flurry of UFO reports!

Parent Comet and Radiant

The meteors are associated with periodic comet Encke (2P/Encke), which orbits the Sun once every 3.3 years — the shortest period of any known comet. Comet Encke and the Taurids are believed to be remnants of a much larger comet, which has disintegrated over the past 20,000 to 30,000 years.

Comet Encke in January 1994 (Jim Scotti/JPL)

The radiant for the Northern Taurids is large and centred at 3h 52m and +22 degrees. This part of the sky is located in the northwest section of the Taurus and only 3 degrees to the southeast of the famous naked eye open cluster, M45 (The Pleiades).

Northern Taurids Radiant and Star Chart

Northern Taurids Radiant and Star Chart - pdf format

What to expect

The ZHR or the number of meters per hour visible under perfect conditions for the Northern Taurids is low at only 5 per hour, although it can be slightly higher. When the meteors from the Northern Taurids strike the atmosphere they do so at a relatively slow velocity of 30km/sec (67,500 km/hour or 42,000 miles/hour). Often many bright fireballs are visible that can be seen moving slowly across the night sky leaving spectacular bright trails in their wake.

As with all meteor showers it is best not to look directly at the radiant itself; the meteors can appear many degrees away from it and even in a completely different area of the sky. To be certain you have seen a Northern Taurid, trace back the meteor trail and it should go all the way back to the radiant.

A good observing tip when looking for meteors is to scan the general region of the sky around the radiant, ideally when lying down on a deck chair or something similar.

2P/Encke Data Table

Comet name2P/Encke
DiscovererPierre Méchain
Discovery date1786
Orbit calculationJohann Franz Encke
Aphelion distance (AU)4.11
Perihelion distance (AU)0.3302
Semi-major axis (AU) 2.2178
Eccentricity0.8471
Orbital period (years)3.30
Inclination (degrees)11.76
Last perihelionAugust 6, 2010
Next perihelionNovember 21, 2013

Northern Taurids Data Table

Meteor shower nameNorthern Taurids
Radiant constellationTaurus
Parent comet2P/Encke
DatesOctober 20 -> December 10
Peak dateNovember 12
RA (J2000)03h 52m
Dec (J2000)+22d
Speed (km/s)30
ZHR 5

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Current Bright Comets

Comet PanSTARRS (C/2012 K1)
Dorado, mag +8.3 (Nov 10).
NH - Not visible.
SH - Visible high around midnight.

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