Why 2022 may be a banner year for the November Taurid meteors.
One of the most notorious producers of fireball meteors could prove to be active this coming week. We’re talking about the Taurid Fireballs, produced by the complex Southern and Northern Taurid meteor stream. Sandwiched between the better known October Orionids and the November Leonids, the Taurids (sometimes referred to as the ‘Halloween Fireballs’) are a complex meteor shower worthy of scrutiny in early November.
The source of the Taurids is non-other than short-period comet 2P/Encke. Specifically, the southern swarm is from the comet, and the northern swarm is from asteroid 2004 TG10, suspected to be a fragment of Comet 2P. Comet 2P/Encke itself is a fascinating object. 2P/Encke has the shortest known orbital period of any known comet, at just 3.3 years. This captured visitor in the inner solar system also appears to be a remnant of an ancient fragmentation event, which occurred an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.
Comet Encke imaged from NASA’s Mercury MESSENGER spacecraft. Credit: NASA
Whatever the case, there are clearly some larger fragments present in the Taurid meteor stream, and some of these occasionally interact with the Earth and the Moon around this time of year. The June 30th, 1908 Tunguska event that occurred over the morning skies of Siberia is thought to have been caused by a fragment of Comet Encke, as a related meteor stream known as the Beta Taurids is active right around the same time of year.
The projected ‘Taurid Swarm’ interaction with the orbit of the Earth in 2022. Credit: IMO/David Clark.
Though we typically only see a paltry five meteors per hour from the Taurids on most years, 2022 could be different. The Taurid stream complex seems to be attenuated by a 7:2 resonance with the planet Jupiter, meaning the Earth encounters clumps of the meteor stream every 3 to 7 years. 2015 was a banner year for the Taurids… and 2022 may be another such year. Encke reaches perihelion again on October 22, 2023, and we won’t have another optimal encounter with the Taurid swarm until perhaps 2025, and after that (most likely) until 2032.
The north-south radiants for the stream straddle the Taurus-Aries border, and ride high to the south for northern hemisphere observers right around local midnight during the first week of November.
The radiant for the Taurid meteor streams. Credit: IMO/Stellarium.
2022 Prospects for the Taurids
First, the bad news: the Moon is going towards Full next week on November 8th, and will thus interfere with meteor observations. There are however, two plus factors working in the shower’s favor: 1). the shower produces an abnormally high ratio of negative magnitude fireballs; and 2). Said Full Moon also marks the last total lunar eclipse of 2022.
Early reports suggest that the Taurids are already active worldwide. In the case of a shower with such a broad activity period and a low Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR), I’d suggest simply being vigilant for any bright meteor that you happen to see or catch in a photo. If you can trace its path back to a radiant just west of the Pleiades and Aldebaran, it’s very likely that you saw a Taurid.
In 2022, the expected peak for the southern/northern Taurids arrives on November 5th and 12th, respectively. Keep in mind through: the peak for the Taurid meteor stream is pretty broad, spanning a week on either side of the expected peak.
A Taurid meteor from 2015. Credit: Tom Wildoner/Flickr
The Taurids vs. Next Week’s Eclipse
It might even be worth keeping a sharp eye on the eclipsed Moon next week, for flashes from the Taurid meteor stream; seismic detectors left on the surface of the Moon by Apollo astronauts actually detected impacts from the stream back in 1975, another peak year for the Taurids. Next week’s total lunar eclipse is the final one for 2022, and favors the Pacific Rim region on the morning of November 8th.
Pow. A Taurid fireball, captured by a NASA all-sky camera. Credit: NASA.
We’ll have lots more to say about said lunar eclipse, coming right up here on Universe Today. In the meantime, keep watching the skies… you just never know, you might witness a testament to an ancient cosmic breakup, as a Taurid fireball slides silently by.
Lead image credit: An early Taurid meteor from October 25, 2022. Credit: Northern_Lights/Flickr